Sts Peter and Paul, Apostles – 29 June
Veneration of the two great Apostles, Peter and Paul, has its roots in the very foundations of the Church. They are the solid rock on which the Church is built. They are at the origin of her faith and will forever remain her protectors and her guides.
To them Rome owes her true greatness, for it was under God’s providential guidance that they were led to make the capital of the Empire, sanctified by their martyrdom, the center of the Christian world whence should radiate the preaching of the Gospel.
Saint Peter’s Square
Monday, 29 June 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today we celebrate the patron saints of Rome, the Apostles Peter and Paul. And it is a gift to find ourselves praying here, near the place where Peter died a martyr and is buried. However, today’s liturgy recalls an entirely different episode: it tells us that several years earlier Peter was freed from death. He had been arrested, he was in prison, and fearing for his life, the Church prayed unceasingly for him. Then an angel came down to free him from prison (cf. Acts 12:1-11). But years later, too, when Peter was a prisoner in Rome, the Church would certainly have prayed. On that occasion, however, his life was not spared. Why was he first spared the trial, and then not?
Because there is a path in Peter’s life that can illuminate the path of our own. The Lord granted him many graces and freed him from evil: he does this with us too. Indeed, often we go to him only in moments of need, to ask for help. But God sees farther and invites us to go further, to seek not only his gifts, but to seek him, who is the Lord of all gifts; to entrust to him not only our problems, but to entrust our life to him. In this way he can finally give us the greatest grace, that of giving our life. Yes, giving our life. The most important thing in life is to make a gift of one’s life. And this is true for everyone: for parents to their children and for children to their elderly parents. And here many elderly people come to mind, who have been left alone by their family, as if — I dare say — as if they were material to be discarded. And this is a tragedy of our times: the loneliness of the elderly. The life of children and grandchildren is not given as a gift to the elderly. Offering the gift of ourselves; those who are married and those who are consecrated; it applies everywhere, at home and at work, and to whomever is close to us. God wishes to make us grow in giving: only in this way can we become great. We grow if we give ourselves to others. Let us look at Saint Peter: he did not become a hero because he was freed from prison, but because he gave his life here. His gift transformed a place of execution into the beautiful place of hope in which we find ourselves.
Here is what to ask of God: not only the grace of the moment, but the grace of life. Today’s Gospel passage shows us the very dialogue that changes Peter’s life. He hears Jesus ask him: “Who do you say I am?”. And he answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. And Jesus continues, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah” (Mt 16:16-17). Jesus calls him “blessed”, that is, literally, happy. You are happy for having said this. Let us take note: Jesus says You are blessed to Peter, who had said to Him, “You are the living God”. What, then, is the secret of a blessed life; what is the secret of a happy life? Recognizing Jesus, but Jesus as the living God, not as a statue. Because it is not important to know that Jesus was great in history; it is not so important to appreciate what he said or did; what matters is the place I give him in my life, the place I give to Jesus in my heart. It is at that point that Simon hears Jesus say: “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (v. 18). He was not called “rock”, because he was a solid and trustworthy man. No, he will make many mistakes afterwards; he was not so reliable, he will make many mistakes; he will even reach the point of denying the Master. But he chose to build his life on Jesus, the rock; not — as the text says — “on flesh and blood”, that is, on himself, on his abilities, but on Jesus (cf. v. 17), who is the rock. Jesus is the bedrock upon which Simon became rock. We can say the same of the Apostle Paul, who gave himself completely to the Gospel, considering everything else to be worthless, so as to earn Christ.
Today, before the Apostles, we can ask ourselves: “And I, how do I arrange my life? Do I think only of the needs of the moment or do I believe that my true need is Jesus, who makes a gift of me? And how do I build life, on my abilities or on the living God?”. May Our Lady, who entrusted everything to God, help us to place him at the foundation of every day, and may she intercede for us so that, with the grace of God, we may make a gift of our life.
After the Angelus, the Holy Father continued:
Dear brothers and sisters, I first greet all the people of Rome and those who live in this City, on the feast of its Patron Saints, the Apostles Peter and Paul. By their intercession, I pray that every person in Rome may live with dignity and may encounter the joyful witness of the Gospel.
On this occasion it is traditional for a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to come to Rome, but this year it is not possible due to the pandemic. Therefore, I spiritually embrace my dear brother, Patriarch Bartholomew, in the hope that our reciprocal visits may resume as soon as possible.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, I would like to remember the many martyrs who have been decapitated, burned alive and killed, especially in the time of the Emperor Nero, on this very land where you are now. This is the bloodstained land of our Christian brothers and sisters. Tomorrow we will commemorate them.
I greet you, dear pilgrims present here: I see flags from Canada, Venezuela, Colombia and others… Many greetings! May your visit to the Tombs of the Apostles strengthen your faith and your witness.
And I wish you all a happy feast day. Please, do not forget to pray for me. Enjoy your lunch. Arrivederci.
Jewish Talmudic student. Pharisee. Tent-maker by trade. Saul the Jew hated and persecuted Christians as heretical, even assisting at the stoning of Saint Stephen the Martyr. On his way to Damascus, Syria, to arrest another group of faithful, he was knocked to the ground, struck blind by a heavenly light, and given the message that in persecuting Christians, he was persecuting Christ. The experience had a profound spiritual effect on him, causing his conversion to Christianity. He was baptized, changed his name to Paul to reflect his new persona, and began travelling, preaching and teaching. His letters to the churches he help found form a large percentage of the New Testament. Knew and worked with many of the earliest saints and fathers of the Church. Martyr.
I assure you, brothers, the gospel I proclaimed to you is no mere human invention. I did not receive it from any man, not was I schooled in it. It came by revelation from Jesus Christ. You have heard, I know, the story of my former way of life in Judaism. You know that I went to extremes in persecuting the Church of God, and tried to destroy it. But the time came when he who had set me apart before I was born and called me by his favour chose to reveal his Son to me, that I might spread among the Gentiles the good tidings concerning him. Immediately, without seeking human advisers or even going to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, I went off to Arabia; later I returned to Damascus. Three years after that I went up to Jerusalem to get to know Cephas, with whom I stayed fifteen days. I did not meet any other apostles except James, the brother of the Lord. The communities of Christ in Judea had no idea what I looked like; they had only heard that “he who was formerly persecuting us is now preaching the faith he tried to destroy,” and they gave glory to God on my account. – from a letter from Saint Paul the Apostle to the Christians in Galatia
Professional fisherman. Brother of Saint Andrew the Apostle, the man who led him to Christ. Apostle. Renamed “Peter” (rock) by Jesus to indicate that Peter would be the rock-like foundation on which the Church would be built. Bishop. First Pope. Miracle worker.
Out of the whole world one man, Peter, is chosen to preside at the of all nations and to be set over all the apostles and all the fathers of the church. Though there are in God’s people many bishops and many shepherds, Peter is thus appointed to rule in his own person those whom Christ also rules as the original ruler. Beloved, how great and wonderful is this sharing in his power that God in his goodness has given to this man. Whatever Christ has willed to be shared in common by Peter and the other leaders of the Church, it is only through Peter that he has given to others what he has not refused to bestow on them. Jesus said: “Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” On this strong foundation, he says, I will build an everlasting temple. The great height of my Church, which is to penetrate the heavens, shall rise on the firm foundation of this faith. Blessed Peter is therefore told: “To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.” – from a sermon by Pope Saint Leo the Great