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Firm in Faith

Monday, June 28, 2021

The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Fr David Rocks finds encouragement in the varied apostolic characters of today's great saints.

This great Solemnity brings together two giants of the Apostolic mission at its very beginning. Two very different men, but two men who are also very similar in many ways. The joint celebration of their solemnity reminds us of their similarly of experience and endeavour, while their separate feasts, celebrated earlier in the liturgical year, point towards the variety of ways in which their mission took them on different paths and adventures towards the great city of Rome, where the mission to ‘all the nations’ would find its centre, where the Apostolic tradition would ultimately bear fruit, and where both Peter and Paul, in different ways, would be ‘united to Christ in a death like his’.

We celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul in January each year. This day, bringing to a culmination the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, allows us to reflect on the wonderful moment of St Paul’s conversion. It was only for a short time that St Paul was completely blind during that journey, but in that time he saw enough to change his ways, so that afterwards he took a very different path. That vision, that profound experience, provided him with such knowledge and zeal that nothing could stop him moving through different communities on his way to Rome, ensuring provision for their pastoral care. He would teach them new ways, and strongly reprimand them when they returned to old ways. He taught them to minister to one another, keeping alive the Gospel he preached to them. Paul’s ministry is one of expansive evangelisation, of risky strategies, of having the courage to believe that once conversion has happened in the heart of any person, there is always a way back from doubt or lapse.

We celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St Peter in February each year. In Peter’s Chair, we see the authority of his apostolic trust. After making a profession of faith (‘who do you say I am’, ‘You are the Christ’), Peter is chosen by the Lord as the rock and foundation where the apostolic mission will flourish. We might say that Peter is a weak man, because he often shows his flaws, doubts, and weaknesses; but in many ways that demonstrates his courage and conviction. He is trying to make sense of the teachings of the Lord and trying to alleviate the fears of the others. If they give everything to the Lord, is it really true? There is hurt, humiliation, and hardship for Peter at the Cross: he is disappointed in the Lord and in himself, and he cries bitterly. At that moment, he has the courage to hope, and to remain, even in disappointment. Peter’s ministry is one of standing firm, of hoping resolutely. He doesn’t have the reckless adventures of Paul, but he has to stand firm against many waves in order to preach the authenticity of the Gospel with unity and authority.

In our readings at Mass today, we learn of how the wonderful grace of God has given both Peter and Paul extraordinary and miraculous experiences for the fulfilment of their ministry – Peter is unlocked from prison; Paul is saved many times from shipwreck. The Lord has given Peter keys of the kingdom, to bind and loose on earth and in heaven. Ultimately, the Lord in his providence does not save them from an ignominious death like his, but they share in it willingly – a short distance from one another. This is their ultimate unity with the Lord, whose glory they beheld and behold.

Perhaps if we’re tempted to judge the weakness of Peter and the arrogance of Paul, we might reflect for a moment on our own moments of conversion, and our own confessions of faith. We wish to see God as he really is – that’s his promise, that’s his gift. Once we change our hearts and lift our minds, we are loosened to enjoy a new life. It is we ourselves who bind ourselves (and others) when we seek to remain in the darkness. It is our duty to encourage one another to glory in the Cross of Christ, and urge each other on to behold the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Readings: Acts 12:1-11 | 2 Timothy 6:6-8,17-18 | Matthew 16:13-19

David Edward Rocks O.P.

David Edward Rocks David Edward Rocks OP lives and works at the Priory of the Holy Spirit, Oxford.


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