By Archbishop Francesco Follo

Peter was the foundation and Paul the architect and the builder of the Church ( St. Ambrose of Milan, De Sp S. II, 13, 158, PL 16, 808)

Solemnity of the Saints Peter and Paul Apostles – Year A – June 28, 2020

Roman Rite

Act 12.1 to 11; Ps 34; 2 Tim 4,6-8.17-18; Mt 16:13-19

Ambrosian Rite – Third Sunday after Pentecost

Gen 2,4 b-17; Ps 103; Rm 5.12 to 17; Jn 3.16 to 21

1) Two Brothers, two columns for a one Church.

Starting from the early Christian centuries, tradition has taught that St. Peter and St. Paul are inseparable. In fact, together these two Apostles stand for the whole Gospel of Christ. In Rome their bond as brothers in faith has acquired a particular significance. In fact, the Christian community of Rome considered them as a kind of counterpart of the legendary Romulus and Remus, the pair of brothers to whom the foundation of Rome was traced and during which Romulus killed Remus. One could also think of another oppositional parallelism, always on the theme of brotherhood. While the first biblical pair of brothers shows us the effect of sin for which Cain kills Abel, Peter and Paul, although humanly very different in personality and with no lack of contrast in their relationship, created a new way of being brothers living according to the Gospel. It is an authentic way made possible precisely by the grace of the Gospel of Christ working in them. Only Jesus’ sequel leads to new fraternity.

Since the first fundamental message that today’s feast gives us is that of apostolic fraternity, to celebrate the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul the Liturgy of the Mass proposes two texts that refer to Saint Peter and one texts that refers to Saint Paul . In the first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostle and in the passage from St. Matthew’s gospel are recounted the thoughtful assistance that the Lord gives to Peter in his suffering and trial, the profession of faith of Peter (“Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God “), his joy as a believer, and the mission to be a rock in which he was entrusted. In the second letter to Timothy, proposed as the second reading, the character and the spiritual and moral stature of Saint Paul are outlined very well.

These readings show us two pillars of the nascent Church in general and of the Church of Rome in particular. The first pillar is Peter, who is the rock set by Christ as foundation for his Church. The second is Paul, the apostle chosen to bring the evangelical message to the Gentiles. They are two people profoundly different in temperament and culture but united by an extraordinary passion for Christ. The same kind of mission is carried out by them along different paths, but it is confirmed by the seal of their testimony pushed to the sacrifice of their own lives. In the two Apostles it is set before us the image of what every Christian is called to be: a person taken by Christ with the mission to make Him known through the testimony of his own life, given to God with joy and easiness in every moment.

2) St. Peter’s characteristics

The way of life of the Apostle Peter can be understood and imitated if we understand his specific charisma that was made of firmness, solidity, and perseverance. It included strength to be always substantially oneself in the diversity of situations, and to live and to survive, with, at the beginning, the certainty of the Gospel, consistency always and clear view of the final destination. Briefly said: faith. In order to have faith and to live by faith we do not need to have special skills. Let’s look at the figure of Peter. His great faith was grafted on a strong but simple humanity. He was a fisherman of Galilee, a disciple of John the Baptist. Then he was called by Jesus with a new name, Cephas, which means Peter. Christ called him to be a fisherman of souls and a shepherd. He entrusted the Church to him, along with the other eleven and as the first of them. The Redeemer made an Apostle of this disciple who was humble, meek and modest, even weak, inconstant and sometimes fearful, but full of enthusiasm, fervor, faith and love. From the beginning, Peter exercised in the nascent Christian community a position of center, teacher, and leader. A supremacy of love and truth, faith and loyalty. This is the faith that we have to ask Peter for, the one that derives from him and the Apostles. What would we be without faith, true faith? Dust of history, grains of sand tossed by the wind. But there is something more that is needed if we are to be followers of St. Peter: loyalty. Faith is for the People of God and so is loyalty, but it is up to us to prove loyalty. “Be strong in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9). That is, we cannot pronounce ourselves disciples and followers of St. Peter if our adherence to the redemptive message of Jesus Christ does not have the inner firmness and the external consistency which makes it a real and practical principle of life.

3) The characteristics of Saint Paul. To describe the charisma, the specific spiritual gift that Saint Paul has received, I will use what St. Thomas Aquinas writes in his commentary on the letters of the Apostle of the Gentiles, and a comparison made by St. John Chrysostom.

The great Dominican theologian frames the figure of St. Paul and his work recalling the expression of the Acts of the Apostles (9:15) with which the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision to Ananias, “He is to me a vessel of election to bring to the people my name.” The image of the vase is often used in Scripture to denote men and St. Thomas uses this image to describe the characteristics of the figure of St. Paul.

There are four characteristics of a vessel:

1) it is a product of the free will of a craftsman,

2) it is a large container,

3) it is made to be used, and therefore

4) it is useful
In fact,

1) Like a vase that is shaped by the craftsman, Paul is a man shaped by God. In God’s creative “hands” he is docile clay, which becomes precious material like gold, which indicates the richness of wisdom, charity and of all the virtues that this Apostle received. St. Paul taught the mysteries of divine wisdom, praised charity and recommended to men which virtues must be cultivated.

2) As a container Paul was full of the name of Jesus to preach and to love.

3) He was used according to the greatest nobility: to bring the name of Jesus in his body receiving the stigmata of Christ, and in his mouth, like the dove of the deluge that brought in its beak an olive branch, the symbol of God’s mercy. Indeed, Jesus is mercy: his name means Savior. Paul himself was the recipient of this mercy. He was a convert, but with his preaching carried it to the elected Gentiles.

4) Concerning usefulness, Paul became teacher of the Gentiles, and the fruit of his teaching are his letters in which the doctrine of the grace of Christ is explained. To understand this point it is useful the comparison that St. John Chrysostom makes between Paul and Noah “Paul did not put together the planks to build an ark; rather, instead of joining planks of wood, he wrote letters and in doing so he pulled out from the waves not two, three or five members of his family, but the entire ecumenism that was about to perish” (Panegyric 1,5.). This is what the apostle Paul can again and always do. To imitate him, in his apostolic example and by his doctrine, will be a stimulus for the consolidation of the Christian identity of each of us and for the constant renewal of the Church. Finally, I would like to highlight the phrase of St. Paul that, in my opinion, best expresses what this Apostle is: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). It is a new meaning of life, of human existence, which consists in communion with the living Jesus Christ not only as a historical figure, a teacher of wisdom, a religious leader, but also a man in whom God dwells. According to contemporary language, we could say that St. Paul was a man between cultures. In fact, he summed up three worlds: the Jewish, the Greek and the Roman. It is not by coincidence that God gave him the mission of bringing the Gospel from Asia Minor to Greece and then to Rome, building a bridge that would have projected Christianity to the ends of the earth.

The protagonists of this mission are all the Christians, men and women who like St. Paul can say “For me to live is Christ.” They are people, families and communities who agree to work in the vineyard of the Lord (cf. Mt 20:1-16). They are humble and generous workers, who do not ask for any reward but to take part in the mission of Jesus and his Church. In this mission, the consecrated Virgins in the world have a particular task: to testify in their everyday work that it is possible to live in Christ, with Christ and for Christ, that is, “of His word, His Body, His Spirit,” as St. Augustine wrote. He then added that “the joy of the consecrated virgins comes from Christ, in Christ, with Christ, following Christ, using Christ and looking up to Christ.” We are all called to follow Christ putting in him the ultimate meaning of our lives to be able to say with the Apostle “For me to live is Christ.” “But those who are called to the consecrated life have a special experience of the light which shines forth from the Incarnate Word. For the profession of the evangelical counsels makes them a kind of sign and prophetic statement for the community of the brethren and for the world; consequently they can echo in a particular way the ecstatic words spoken by Peter: “Lord, it is well that we are here” (Mt 17:4). These words bespeak the Christocentric orientation of the whole Christian life. But they also eloquently express the radical nature of the vocation to the consecrated life“(John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exortation Vita consecrata, n. 15).

Patristic Reading

From sermon 295 by Saint Augustine, bishop
(Sermo 295, 1-2.4.7-8: PL 38, 1348-1352).

The martyrs realized what they taught.

This day has been made holy by the passion of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. We are, therefore, not talking about some obscure martyrs. For their voice has gone forth to all the world, and to the ends of the earth their message. These martyrs realized what they taught: they pursued justice, they confessed the truth, they died for it.

Saint Peter, the first of the apostles and a fervent lover of Christ, merited to hear these words: I say to you that you are Peter, for he had said: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Then Christ said: And I say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church. On this rock I will build the faith that you now confess, and on your words: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, I will build my Church. For you are Peter, and the name Peter comes from petra, the word for “rock,” and not vice versa. “Peter” comes, therefore, from petra, just as “Christian” comes from Christ.

As you are aware, Jesus chose his disciples before his passion and called them apostles; and among these almost everywhere Peter alone deserved to represent the entire Church. And because of that role which he alone had, he merited to hear the words: To you I shall give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. For it was not one man who received the keys, but the entire Church considered as one. Now insofar as he represented the unity and universality of the Church, Peter’s preeminence is clear from the words: To you I give, for what was given was given to all. For the fact that it was the Church that received the keys of the kingdom of God is clear from what the Lord says elsewhere to all the apostles: Receive the Holy Spirit, adding immediately, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you retain, they are retained.

Rightly then did the Lord after his resurrection entrust Peter with the feeding of his sheep. Yet he was not the only disciple to merit the feeding of the Lord’s sheep; but Christ in speaking only to one suggests the unity of all; and so he speaks to Peter, because Peter is first among the apostles. Therefore do not be disheartened, Peter; reply once, reply twice, reply a third time. The triple confession of your love is to regain what was lost three times by your fear. You must loose three times what you bound three times; untie by love that which your fear bound. Once, and again, and a third time did the Lord entrust his sheep to Peter.

Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching and their confession of faith.

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