Saints Peter & Paul-29 June AD 2008
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin and
Die 29 Junii - Sanctórum Petri et Pauli, Apostolórum
June 29th The Holy Apostles Peter and Paul
Legend tells us that the City of Rome was founded by two brothers, Romulus
and Remus in 753 BC. They are said to have been the twin sons of the priestess
Rhea Silvia, fathered by the god of war, Mars. The boys were set adrift, but
were saved by a she-wolf, Lupa, who adopted them and nursed them until they were
able to fend for themselves. Remus came to a tragic end, being killed by Romulus
in a dispute over who would be King of the Romans.
Today we celebrate the joint feast of Saints Peter and Paul, whom, on the
authority of Pope Saint Leo the Great, we acknowledge to be the fathers of
Christian Rome. They are an interesting pair- very different in many ways-but
much more complimentary than contradictory. In the middle ages they were
frequently referred to as the “co-apostles” of Rome-a title that didn’t go
out of use until around the time of Pope Gregory VII. In the mosaics of the
ancient Roman basilicas the two were pictured with our Lord in the center; Paul
to His right, Peter to His left.
Peter, as you know was a fisherman, probably not well educated (he may have
dictated his epistles to a writer). He was impetuous, following Christ at a word
(Mt. iv); demanding to walk with Him on water (Mt.
viii); suggesting to Jesus that it might not be such a good idea
to go to Rome to be crucified (Mt. xvii and xviii);
demanding to be washed all over when Jesus washed the Apostles’ feet (John
xiii); insisting on his readiness to die with Jesus rather than
deny him (Mt. xxvi); cutting off the ear of the high
priest’s servant, (Mt. xxvi); jumping from the boat
because he saw Jesus on shore (John xxi). Peter, in the
end, was impetuous enough to demand to be crucified upside-down, so that no one
would mistake him for his Master.
Paul came from different stock. He was an educated man, a doctor of the
Mosaic Law, having studied under the famed Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts
But Paul was no idle intellectual. He made his own living as a tentmaker, even
after becoming a Christian and an Apostle (Acts xviii).
His zeal for the Law, you will recall, drove him to the Stoning of Saint
Stephen, the first martyr (Acts vii); and to Damascus
where he planned to persecute Christians (Acts viii and ix).
The Acts of the Apostles and his various Epistles show that he maintained that
same zeal as he traveled all over the Mediterranean to preach the word of
Christ-in spite of being wiped, scourged, stoned, shipwrecked, and escaping
through a window in the wall of Damascus (ii Corinthians xi and xii).
Both of our “co-apostles” were driven by divine grace. What did we just
hear in the Gospel after Peter identified Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the
living God”? “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood hast
not revealed it to thee, but My Father, who is in heaven.” Peter was an
impetuous fisherman, who would not have come up with this idea on his own-he had
it through the grace of God. Paul, likewise, left to his own devices, would have
been a great hindrance to fledgling Christianity, not a help. Instead, Christ
knocked him off his feet and struck him temporarily blind to get his attention.
Both of these men deserved to be called “Apostle to the Gentiles.” The
term is usually reserved to Paul, in honor of his great missionary journeys, but
it belongs equally to Peter. It was Peter who first went to the gentiles, in the
person of the Roman Centurion Cornelius, and Peter who baptized the Centurion’s
entire household (Acts xi). It was Peter who established
the Church at Antioch, among the Syrians, and served as their bishop for seven
year before going to Rome; Peter who received a vision from God, freeing
Christians from the kosher food laws (Acts xi); and Peter
who recommended that gentile converts not be required to keep the ritual
prescriptions of the Mosaic Law (Acts xv).
Curiously, it was the observance of the Mosaic Law, a subject on which they
both agreed, that lead to Paul “resisting” Peter “to his face. Paul was
very concerned that in Antioch Peter tended only to associate with those who had
been circumcised-sometimes, even Peter needs to be reminded that he has strayed
a bit from the path (Galatians ii). Of course, Peter had
the last laugh, assuming he had the opportunity to read the Acts of the
Apostles, in which Luke relates that Paul circumcised Timothy “on account of
the Jews” (Acts xvi). Sometimes when we confront those
in authority, we later learn that it can be difficult to avoid the same
difficulties into which they fell.
Peter proceeded to Rome from Antioch, making a conscious decision that God
had sent His Son into the world at precisely this time in history, when Roman
roads and Roman soldiers enabled commerce and the word of God, both, to spread
rapidly about Asia, Europe, and North Africa. Rome, of course, was at the center
of all this, and the place where the Church of Jesus Christ had to be
Paul went to Rome less willingly, as a prisoner. He had been falsely accused
of wrong-doing at Cæsarea, the military capital of Judea, a little bit south of
Mount Carmel on the Mediterranean coast (Acts xxiii-xxvi).
After spending two years in captivity, he appealed to Cæsar, which was his
right as a Roman citizen. He was sent to Rome for trial. He spent two years in
Rome under house arrest, during which time many visitors came to hear the word
of God from him.
Peter will forever be associated with the diocesan clergy, the bishops and
priests who minister in the cities and the towns, often without much change of
scene. On the other hand, apart from time in jail, Paul was never very long in
one place. If Peter is then the quintessential pastor, then Paul will be the
classic example of the evangelist.
As I mentioned, they were two men very different in many ways-but much more
complimentary than contradictory. This very day in the year A.D. 67, is the most
probable date of their martyrdom. They were united in death under the
persecution of the mad Emperor Nero. Impetuous Peter was subjected to the Empire’s
most horrible punishment for foreigners-crucifixion-but upside-down, as I have
mentioned. Paul, a citizen of the Empire was allowed the merciful death of
decapitation by the sword.
The field of the Church is watered with the blood of the martyrs. But today
the martyrs we honor are the co-apostles of the City of Rome, the mother Church
of all Churches. They were different men, united in one witness of the truth.
May they both be an inspiration to us, in spite of all possible difficulties, to
always remain faithful to the unchanging truths of our Catholic Faith.
Paul, Jesus Christ, Saint Peter
Tomb of Emperor Otto II
Saint Peter's Basilica