June 29, 2014 – Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles
Our celebrations during the month of June have spanned from June 8, Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, to June 15, the Most Holy Trinity, to June 22, Corpus Christi, to today’s Solemnity, when we celebrate the lives and faith and service of Sts. Peter and Paul. On this day (June 29) in the year 258 Pope Sixtus VI celebrated the two together at the St. Sebastian Catacombs, and that is why we commemorate them together on this date. It is worth noting that throughout the St. Sebastian Catacombs prayers are carved on the walls by early Christians, which begin “Petrus et Paulus.” These two mainstays of our Catholic Church are almost considered as one in terms of their total impact, and they have been for centuries.
The readings for this Solemnity touch on the significance of both Sts. Peter and Paul, and expand the understanding of how deep their influence was on the Church as well as on those of us who are among the faithful of that Church. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles focuses on Saint Peter, although the martyrdom of Saint James is also important.
We deem Peter as our first Pope, and every Holy Father since has served in the succession of Peter. According to The Catechism of the Catholic Church (552-553): “Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Our Lord then declared to him: ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’ Christ, the ‘living Stone’, thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed, Peter will remain the unshakeable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it.” The fact that St. James (the Greater) was martyred and Peter spared is a clear indication that the Lord had great things in mind for St. Peter.
In St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, the second reading, we not only hear of the special apostolate to which Paul was called, but also the eloquent way Paul describes it. Historically, it is most probable that Sts. Peter and Paul were in Rome at the same time. Scholars have concluded that Peter was martyred in 64 AD under the emperor Nero (Peter would have been approximately 65 years of age), and that Paul was martyred a short time later, also by the Emperor Nero. The fact that these two men were in Rome at the same time and died relatively close together in terms of time, also ties them together for us. So much of Paul’s statements in this reading are memorable and well known, from “I am already poured out” to “I have finished the race,” but there is special significance in his statement “the crown of righteousness awaits me.” In the original Greek, St. Paul used the word “stephanos” for “crown.” That is worth noting since that kind of crown was not a royal crown, but a victor’s crown. What makes it especially momentous is the name of the first martyr who suffered under Paul’s persecution — Stephanos (St. Stephen).
We have already made reference to the Gospel in which Jesus identifies St. Peter as the “rock” on which He will build His Church (There could be no clearer indication that we are part of the Church established by Jesus and initially developed by Peter.). Like Jesus and the Blessed Mother, Sts. Peter and Paul are at the apex of stewardship examples to all of us. Peter exemplifies stewardship in his loyalty to Jesus (like us, however, he was wonderfully human in that regard) and in his steadfast way of establishing the Church. Paul represents the wisdom of stewardship. Both remind us of how we, too, can overcome doubt: Peter denied the Lord but repented; Paul resisted the truth, but came to believe.