Very rarely the great Feast of Saints Peter and Paul falls on a Sunday, but this year it does! This celebration offers us an opportunity to reflect on the life and mission of these two stalwart apostles on whom our faith and Church are founded. While Peter was the head of the apostolic college who received the faith from the Master Himself, Paul was the great preacher who developed its theology and took it to distant shores. Even though they are two different individuals, on one thing they both concur – their intense, passionate love for Jesus Christ, the Lord.
At his first meeting with Jesus, Peter is not thrilled. According to Luke’s gospel, Peter refuses to go fishing again after Jesus finished using his boat as his pulpit. Cajoled by his friends, he consents. Once they haul in a miraculous catch of fish, Peter throws himself at the feet of the Master and begs: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” He is not eager to become His disciple. Only gradually his love for and loyalty to Jesus grow.
Impelled by the Holy Spirit, he professes his faith in Jesus as the Messiah while all the others are silent. In response to his profession of faith, Jesus calls him Peter. He says: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” At that moment, Peter becomes first among the apostles and is called upon to exercise a unique ministry towards the Church.
During the days of Jesus’ suffering, Peter is adamant that he will remain faithful. Jesus knows better and cautions him. Peter expresses his readiness to be with Jesus and die with Him. Then the Lord alerts him to the truth: “Simon, Satan has asked me to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail so that when you return, you will strengthen your brothers.” It is only after his denial of knowing Jesus that Peter becomes the great apostle. Broken and totally aware of his failure, Peter weeps bitterly. After the resurrection, he once again professes his faith in Jesus but totally in a different way: “Lord, you know I love you!” It is that love that moves Peter to return to Rome to be crucified under Emperor Nero. Peter demonstrates his passionate love for the Master more by his death than by his words.
Paul, on the other hand, begins his relationship with Jesus in a very different way. Captivated by zeal for his Jewish faith, he views Christians as apostates and heretics and puts them in jail. It is on his way to Damascus that he meets the Risen Lord for the first time. Realizing that he was persecuting not merely some individuals but Jesus Christ Himself, he embraces the faith that he tried to destroy. After spending some years in prayer and reflection, he begins his mission of preaching this new faith, and what a preacher he becomes!
As he travels the length and breadth of the then-known civilized world, Paul brings the faith first to the Jews. When they reject his preaching, he moves on to the gentiles. He establishes the Church in Turkey, Greece and Rome. In the Letters that he writes to these baby churches, he develops this nascent faith. Being a theologian himself, he gives us an understanding of grace and justification, sin and redemption, and death and resurrection. In his many writings, often he gives us a glimpse of his passionate love for the Lord. Confronted by his own human weakness, Paul begs the Lord to take away his “thorn in the flesh.” When the Lord refuses saying, “My grace is sufficient unto you,” Paul responds by writing to the Corinthians: “When I am weak then I am strong! I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.”
His most eloquent profession of love for the Lord is evident in chapter 8 of his Letter to the Romans. There he writes: “If God is for us who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? What can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Paul is convinced that everything works unto good for those who love God.
As inheritors of the faith preached by Peter and Paul, let us imitate their passionate love for Jesus. Just like them, let us be ready not only to live for Him but also to die for Him. May these two true princes of the Church help us to enter into the reign of God!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...