A commentary on this Sunday's readings
“These are the ones who, living in the flesh, planted the Church of God with their blood; they drank the chalice of the Lord and became the friends of God.” The entrance antiphon for the feast of Ss Peter and Paul sets before us, as an example to be followed, the characteristics that would make these saints the foundation of the early Church. Both, from very different backgrounds, were called to become Apostles: Peter from the more practical background of a Galilean fisherman, Paul from the more sophisticated world of a Roman citizen steeped in Jewish faith that had spread throughout the Empire.
The contrast in their backgrounds and, humanly speaking, their skills, could not have been more extreme. Peter emerges from the gospels as a practical leader, a man who gathered his fellow workers together, inspired them and spoke for them. He instinctively spoke from the heart, even if, as the gospels witness, initially he failed to fulfil the loyalty that he had proclaimed.
Paul emerges from his letters as a man deeply rooted in the conservative Jewish faith that had formed his early years. At the same time he was thoroughly acquainted with the philosophies and thought patterns that permeated the Roman world, perfectly equipped to engage with a world that would have been quite alien to a Galilean fisherman.
What united these great Apostles, coming as they did from such different backgrounds, was that “they planted the Church with their blood”. With these words the entrance antiphon clearly refers to their martyrdom, the death they shared in Rome. Martyrdom, however, is the witness of a whole life, not simply the death that is it glorious conclusion.
Peter and Paul are united in a faith that surrendered itself unhesitatingly to the person of Our Lord. In the words of the antiphon: “They drank the chalice of the Lord and became friends of God.”
In Peter’s case we see this in his confession of Christ as the Son of God at Caesarea Philippi. While the other disciples held back, Peter, with an almost reckless generosity, embraced and affirmed his Lord. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Surely it was this generosity of Spirit, this willingness to embrace the Christ before him, that equipped Peter to become the Rock upon which the Lord would build his Church. The faith that endures, that becomes a support for many, is the gift of self to the Lord, a self-giving that is fearless, never counting the cost.
While Peter committed himself to the Lord at Caesarea Philippi, Paul encountered that same Lord on the road to Damascus. He, like Peter, committed himself to the Lord with an unqualified generosity of heart. In his own later description of his conversion, he became consumed with a longing to know Christ and the power of his Resurrection. The words of Paul’s letter to Timothy, concluding a ministry of unrelenting service of his Lord, emphasise the deeply personal generosity of Paul’s faith. “My life is already being poured away as a libation. The time has come for me to be gone.“I have fought the good fight to the end. I have run the race to the finish. I have kept the faith.”
During this Year of Faith, Peter and Paul leave us in no doubt that faith summons us to a deeply personal engagement with the Lord. The very different backgrounds that gave birth to these great apostles encourages us to believe that whatever we bring to the Lord, be it great or small, when given generously, becomes a living stone on which Christ continues to build his Church.