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Solemnity of Saints Peter & Paul

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul is both unusual, insofar as it celebrates two great saints on a single day, and fitting in that combining these two great pillars of the early Church we see the unity, the catholicity, of the Church. Thus, in celebrating these two extraordinary figures we also celebrate the Church, founded on the Rock of Peter, proclaimed universally by Paul, and watered by the blood of these faithful martyrs.

Though we can see a unity of purpose in the lives of these two Apostles, we can also see that they were two very different characters. Saint Peter, the brother of Andrew, was a poor fisherman from the Sea of Galilee. Originally named Simon, Christ Himself gave him the name Cephas or Peter, meaning ‘rock’ in Hebrew. After his call to leave everything and follow Christ we see him continually at the side of Jesus and, as a leading figure of the Twelve, one who was favoured by Jesus in His earthly ministry. He is particularly well remembered for his declaration at Caesarea Philippi, recounted in today’s Gospel from Matthew. When asked by Jesus; ‘“But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” Peter also had his moments of human weakness and frailty, most notably in his denial of Christ during the Passion. This weakness is reminiscent of our own and shows us, just as it showed Peter, our constant need of the grace of God to remain steadfast in the face of adversity. The Church would not, and could not exist, without this grace which is continually poured out from the Holy Spirit.

St Paul presents us with a very different story. An ardent Pharisee, Paul was a well-educated and committed ‘anti-Christian’ until his conversion on the road to Damascus. This ‘Damascene conversion’ lead him from being persecutor to defender of the faith. He worked tirelessly for nearly thirty years preaching the Gospel and building Christian communities throughout the Mediterranean basin. His fourteen letters which became part of the Canon are a powerful testimony to his apostolic zeal and love of Christ.

Both men were to eventually suffer death in Rome for their faith. St Peter crucified upside down and St Paul beheaded. These two very different men were united in purpose by Christ. By His grace they built the Church and it is upon their courageous endeavours that it took root and spread throughout the world. Theirs was a unity that transcended all material difference and together they teach us about the depth of true Christian commitment. Above all they show us what is meant by our confession of faith in the One, Holy and Apostolic Church.

Graham Hunt OP


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