29 June 2008

Homily - At the Vigil of Saints Peter and Peter

By a happy coincidence of dates, today we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. At the same time, we celebrate today the opening of the great Jubilee Year proclaimed by the Holy Father and dedicated to Saint Paul as we commemorate the two thousandth anniversary of his birth.

These two Apostles, Peter and Paul, are inseparably united one to the other because of the common mission which they share.

Peter professed his faith in Christ first; Paul obtained as a gift the ability to deepen its riches. Peter founded the first community of Christians who came from the Chosen People; Paul became the Apostle to the Gentiles. With different charisms they worked for one and the same cause: the building of Christ’s Church.[1]
The Church of Christ is unthinkable without either of these two Apostles, so great is their contribution to the Church.

We must ask ourselves what these two Apostles want to teach us today, here and now. Our celebration here is not a matter of simply recalling some past event or some historical personality. It is, rather, an encounter with the Triune God, guided and accompanied by the Apostles, the Saints, and the choirs of angels.

In this passage from the Acts of the Apostles, we learn of Saint Peter’s sole possession. “I have neither gold nor silver,” he said to the crippled beggar, “but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus the Nazarene, rise and walk” (Acts 3:6). Peter’s only possession is Jesus Christ, but this gift is not his to keep to himself but to give freely to others.

Turning to Saint Paul, we know that when he was on his way to the city of Damascus in Syria, he encountered the Lord Jesus, who said to him, “Why do you persecute me?” Seeing nothing but a blinding light and not recognizing the voice, Paul said, “Who are you, sir?” “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,” came the reply (Acts 9:4-5). In this encounter with the Risen Lord, Paul understood that the Church is truly the Body of Christ, so that in persecuting the Church he persecuted Christ.

Paul came to see himself as a “slave of Jesus Christ” and he did what he was told to do by the Lord (Romans 1:1; cf. Acts 9:6). He was convinced that the Lord chose him, while he was still in his mother’s womb, to “proclaim him to the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:16).

Is this not also how Peter saw himself, as a slave of Jesus Christ chosen by him? Is this not how we, too, are to see ourselves? Is this not what it means to say, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:17).

As the Lord said to Peter and to Paul, so he says to each us, “Follow me” (John 21:19). In following him, both found true freedom, the freedom of the sons of God. They used their voices – Peter, an unlearned fisherman and Paul, a learned tentmaker but a poor speaker – to herald the Gospel to all of creation; and their message reaches us even today. In the end, both gave their lives for Christ in the city of Rome. Crucified upside down, Peter showed his humility in asking not to be executed in the same manner as his Lord. Beheaded by the sword, Paul showed that our true citizenship is not in this world, but in heaven (cf. Philippians 3:20).

Thus these two Apostles teach us that our only true possession is Jesus Christ, and that our happiness and contentment will only be found in uniting ourselves completely to Christ in whatever way he should call us.

When we look even briefly at the life of Saint Paul what strikes us particularly strongly is the great success of his missionary preaching. His three missionary journeys took him across the Roman Empire, establishing Churches as he went. What was it that made him such an effective preacher of the Gospel?

It is not difficult to see that Paul’s tremendous success as a missionary “depended above all on his personal involvement in proclaiming the Gospel with total dedication to Christ; a dedication that feared neither risk, difficulty nor persecution.”[2] It is the same with us.

We must, then, ask ourselves: How devoted am I to Christ the Lord? Does the witness of my life demonstrate my belief in, and my love of, Jesus Christ?
The Church’s action is credible and effective only to the extent to which those who belong to her are prepared to pay in person for their fidelity to Christ in every circumstance. When this readiness is lacking, the crucial argument of truth on which the Church herself depends is also absent.[3]
Looking to the example of the Apostles Peter and Paul – and to all of the Saints – we will learn how to live faithfully as disciples of the Lord, we learn how to be dedicated to him.

There is yet one more question to consider today: when was the last time you read the letters of Saint Paul? Now is a perfect time to begin prayerfully reading and studying his letters. We cannot know Saint Paul if we do not read his writings. Please, do not waste this year of grace. Spend a little time each week with the letters of the Apostle; your time will be well spent as you grow in faith, hope and love.

We know that statistics of our favorite sports team. We know what happens on our favorite television show. If we devote such time and know so much about these things that will pass away and amount to nothing, why should we not know the writings of Saint Paul?

The Holy Father Benedict XVI has proclaimed this Pauline Year to help us refocus our lives on Christ by looking through the lens of Saint Paul. When he announced this Jubilee Year last June, he said:
Dear brothers and sisters, today too Christ needs apostles ready to sacrifice themselves. He needs witnesses and martyrs like St. Paul. Paul, a former violent persecutor of Christians, when he fell to the ground dazzled by the divine light on the road to Damascus, did not hesitate to change sides to the Crucified One and followed him without second thoughts. He lived and worked for Christ, for him he suffered and died. How timely his example is today![4]
In the end, we know that what motivated both Peter and Paul in all that they did was their love for Jesus Christ. In this year of grace, in this year of Saint Paul, each of us must ask: does my love for Jesus Christ motivate me?

May the Apostle Paul – “who shines like a star of the brightest magnitude in the Church” – guide us forward and obtain this grace for each of us.[5] Amen!

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 28 June 2007.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., General Audience, 25 October 2006.

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