By Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap.
Author’s Note: Because there are different readings for the Vigil of Peter and Paul and Mass during the day, I offer two sets of notes: different readings, different homilies.
By a quirk of the liturgical calendar, we celebrate today, instead of the 13th Sunday of the Church’s year, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. The question you might be ask – and it’s a good one – why would we erase a Sunday in Ordinary Time in order to celebrate two sinners
How does Paul, the man who presided over the murder of Saint Stephen, and a famous persecutor of the Church, merit a whole day?
Why does Peter, the man who denied Jesus in the courtyard, the one whom in attempting to convince the Lord not to undergo his passion and death receive the rebuke, “Get behind me Satan,” deserve a feast day?
The reason is, quite plainly, that what Paul wrote in his farewell letter to Timothy, is the truth: he ran the race and so did Saint Peter. They both “finished the race and kept the faith.”
Brothers and sisters, today’s feast of Peter and Paul doesn’t present these two men as being worthy of worship. It doesn’t suggest that all of us need to be exactly like Peter and Paul. What it does suggest, however, is that the mission of our Christian lives isn’t to be successful or even outwardly holy: rather, it’s to be secure in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God and to then act in a way that lets others know that this truth has had a lasting effect on our own lives.
The scene from today’s Gospel – Peter’s confession of faith is profound, exactly because of its location. Matthew tells us that Jesus was with his followers in the region of Caesarea Philippi. This was no simple region of the Palestinian countryside. No, you see, in this very place, there was a shrine to the god Baal. Pagans from all around would come to offer sacrifice. This same region was also considered to be the legendary birthplace of the god of nature. There was also a shrine there to Caesar – the man the Romans venerated as a god-man – as God’s own son.
And so with this backdrop, Jesus pops the big question: “who do you say that I am?”
Amidst all the cares and fears of his life – amidst all of the other systems and configurations of the world – up against the fake gods, up against the emperor of the most powerful, brutal empire in the world, Peter confesses: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
We’re not all that different from Peter – we live in a world filled with noise, with interests competing for our attention and yes, even at times, our worship. We have success dangled in front of our faces. Or, perhaps even more painfully, we watch our sons, daughters, and grandchildren grapple with such enticing opportunities.
But there is Good News in all this: the most difficult place in our lives is where Jesus reveals himself to truly be himself! In the place we struggle most, this is where God gets involved in our lives most abundantly. Peter and Paul are perfect examples of this.
Peter, the man who denied Jesus, becomes the leader of the earliest Christian community, teaches the faith, gathers Jews and Gentiles together and dies crucified, not denying the Lord but confessing him even to death!
Paul, the great persecutor of the Christian people, goes from town to town preaching the Gospel of Christ. Such actions bring him into conflict again and again with the leaders of synagogues as well as the Roman government. He dies at the hands of the Romans for preaching that while the emperor may be powerful, Jesus is indeed Lord.
Of course, our stories aren’t very similar to Peter or Paul’s: except for one major reason. We too are on this race of faith – we are fighting the good fight each day. Today, the Lord doesn’t offer us an invitation, but waits for ours!
Just as every race takes a whole series of steps, I think we are well served to spend out time this week focusing on the next step, not worrying about the entire race. No one succeeds at a marathon after mile one of twenty-six – the same goes for our lives of faith. So let us consider one place where we need to take another step –in a relationship, in a bad habit, in our prayer – and ask the Lord to help us to see the place we must go this week.
Do we love God more than these? Sometimes. Does God love us more than them? Absolutely.