Peter & Paul: Models of discipleshipBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
The Roman Martyrology announces the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul in the following words: “At Rome, the birthday of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, who suffered under the Emperor Nero. In this city, the former was fastened to a cross, head downwards, buried in the Vatican, and honored by all the world; the latter was beheaded and buried on the road leading to Ostia and received the same honor.”
In Rome, this feast has been compared to a “second Easter.” It was the birth of Christian Rome and marked the triumph of Christ’s victory over paganism.
Peter was first known as Simon. Christ Himself gave him the name Peter, the Rock. Born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, he was a fisherman. Along with his brothers, John and Andrew, Peter was among Jesus’ first disciples.
After the miraculous catch of fish on the Sea of Galilee Peter left wife, family, and occupation to take his place as leader of the Twelve. From that moment, he was continually at Jesus’ side. In Matthew Chapter 16, he is given the keys to the kingdom and in John 16 Peter speaks on behalf of the Twelve. He was favored to witness the raising of Jairus’ daughter, to be at the Transfiguration, and at the agony in the garden. He was the first to preach about the Risen Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles, at Pentecos,t and received the first converts into the Church. Peter was the first bishop of Rome and Antioch, authored two letters, and culminated his life with martyrdom, being crucified upside down. And, this same man put his foot into his mouth constantly. He was very often like a bull in a china closet, hasty in both action and words. He would have benefitted from the old adage, “Think before you speak.” And of course, Peter denied Our Lord three times. Still, his triple denial was overcome by his triple profession of faith, “Do you love me? … you know I love you … Feed my lambs. …”
In the end, for all Peter’s faults, his actions spoke louder than his words.
Similarly, Paul, known as Saul, was not without his faults. A convert, one who participated in the stoning of St. Stephen, Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin and raised in the strict Jewish party of the Pharisees; He was a Roman citizen. Paul was a tent maker by trade and never saw Our Lord during His earthly life. Paul led the persecutions against the Christians until, by the grace of God, he was converted to the faith after a mystical experience.
Paul is the great missionary. Too many to detail, but his influence can be noted in Cyprus, Asia Minor, Jerusalem, back to Asia Minor, into Europe, Greece to the cities of Phillippi, Thessalonia, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus. Imprisoned for two years, shipwrecked on the Island of Malta, Paul finally returned to Rome where he was taken prisoner and beheaded in the year 67. His letters contain some of the most inspiring verses of Scripture. Consider Galatians 2, “I have been crucified with Christ. I live now not I but Christ lives in me;” or 2 Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” There are so many others.
What can we learn from these two men? First, when you have encountered Jesus, your life is never the same. Up becomes down and down becomes up. Once we’ve encountered Christ, we can never go back to our old way of life, which challenges many of us today. Maybe we have “tamed” the Gospel and do not let it call us to a more radical following of Christ. We think, “I will follow Christ when it is convenient for me.” And when it costs us, when we have to “pay a price” for discipleship—no thanks!
Second, neither Paul or Peter earned their faith. It was a free gift of grace from God. God offers that same gift to each of us. He does not withhold it from any of us. Sometimes people will say, well, if faith is a gift, the Good Lord didn’t give the gift to me, as if to say they are off the hook. No, God offers the gift to all—it is up to each individual to unwrap that gift, accept that gift, and treasure it.
Third, Peter and Paul had a role to play in the early Church. Each of us, too, has a role to play in the Church today. The Church is “ever ancient, ever new.” It has survived wars, persecutions, and internal scandals. How, why? It has survived because it is divine. Guided by the Holy Spirit, using frail, sinful humans, the Church has and will continue to make mistakes and continue to proclaim the Good News. In other words, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
May each of us be great missionaries, in word and deed and in faith.
Lumen Christi Award
I would like to congratulate Maura Taylor, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri (CCSOMO), for recently being nominated for Catholic Extension’s 2017-2018 Lumen Christi Award (“Light of Christ”). This annual award is given to individuals who have demonstrated how the power of faith can transform lives and communities in the most under-resourced dioceses in the US.
As many of you know, CCSOMO is our lead agency in working with the poor in southern Missouri. We have an estimated 67,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and we should therefore have 67,000 supporters of the work of Catholic Charities.
Since the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Catholic Charities has expanded its services, fulfilling its mission of “reaching out, providing hope, and changing lives.” With offices in Joplin, Springfield, Van Buren, Sikeston, and Cape Girardeau, the work of Catholic Charities stretches throughout the diocese. Most recently, Catholic Charities has responded to the needs of spring flood victims, offering hope to those who lost everything. From meeting the needs of the developmentally disabled, disaster preparedness, homelessness prevention, home repair, housing and financial counseling, income tax assistance, crisis maternity services, mental health counseling, pregnancy and parenting support, and services for veterans, every Catholic can be proud of the great work accomplished by CCSOMO on a daily basis; every Catholic should support the work of Catholic Charities! Congratulations to Maura and the entire staff at CCSOMO.