Saints Peter and Paul
(Celebrated 29 June)

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Saints Peter (left) and Paul (right) - by El Greco - from The Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

 

2Timothy 4:6-8,17-18

I am already being poured out like a libation. The time of my dissolution is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on a merited crown awaits me; on that Day the Lord, just judge that He is, will award it to me -- and not only to me but to all who have looked for His appearing with eager longing. But the Lord stood by my side and gave me strength, so that through me the preaching task might be completed and all the nations might hear the gospel. That is how I was saved from the lion's jaws. The Lord will continue to rescue me from all attempts to do me harm and will bring me safe to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever.

Amen

 

Matthew 16:13-19

When Jesus came to the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples this question: "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptizer, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "And you," He said to them, "who do you say that I am?" "You are the Messiah," Simon Peter answered, "the Son of the living God!" Jesus replied, "Blest are you, Simon son of John! No mere man has revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father. I for My part declare to you, you are 'Rock,' and on this rock I will build My Church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it. I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

 

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

On this feast honoring the apostles Peter and Paul, the word to remember is "grace". Saints Peter and Paul were masterpieces of grace -- God's grace. They were each changed in a radical way by grace. They were saved by grace. They persevered unto death by grace. The New Catechism says that grace is "favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life".

Paul says in today's second reading, "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith". He did all that by grace; he did not do it by his own power -- and he was well aware of that fact. As he himself acknowledged a few lines later, ". . . the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the preaching task might be completed".

In today's gospel scene from Matthew 16, Peter identifies Jesus as "the Messiah, the Son of the living God". And how does Jesus respond? He says, "Blest are you, Simon son of John! No mere man has revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father". In other words, "Peter, this insight has come to you by the grace of God, not from your own human wisdom". Grace transformed Peter from a weak, impulsive individual into a strong, confident leader--the first pope. Grace transformed Paul from a hateful persecutor into a loving apostle--the great apostle to the Gentiles. Paul said in 1Corinthians 15, "By the grace of God, I am what I am". I can just imagine Peter hearing those words from Paul's mouth and responding, "Amen, brother, that makes two of us"!

Unfortunately, we live in a world right now where God's grace is not taken very seriously. Just go to a secular bookstore sometime and check out the size of the "Self-help" section. Normally, it's huge! It certainly will be much bigger than the religion section! That tells me that most people today are looking to themselves, and not to God, for the solutions to their problems. Think, too, of how many Catholics miss Mass regularly; think of how many Catholics participate halfheartedly at Mass; think of how easy it is to neglect personal prayer. Why do such things happen? They happen because people easily lose their awareness of how much they need God, of how much they need His grace, for everything! Lest we forget, our very existence is the work of grace! As Saint Paul once put it, "In God we live and move and have our being".

It makes a big difference when a person does understand his need for the Lord. Recently a man came to see me for Confession. When he walked in, I must say I was pleasantly shocked by his appearance! This man is a recovering alcoholic who, with God's help, has really gotten his life together in the last couple of years. I said to him, "Tom, you look great -- have you been working out"? He said, "Yes, I've started jogging". I said, "You know, it's great to see you doing so well. You're a real work of God's grace". He responded, "Yes, but I need more of it! That's why I'm here".

Tom, praise God, has the attitude of Peter and Paul; that is to say, Tom has the attitude that turns ordinary people into great saints -- he knows how much he needs God for his sobriety, and for everything else in his life. Let us pray at that we will have this very same attitude in our hearts.