29 June 2014

Homily - Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul - 29 June 2014

N.B.: Were I preaching this weekend, the following homily is something along the lines of what I would preach. I'm not entirely happy with the ending yet, but I'm not sure what to do with it without making it exceedingly lengthy.

The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

May the Lord give you peace!

As we reflect today on the two great Apostles, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, we might well ask what it was that led each of these two men to lay down their lives for Christ Jesus and for his Body, the Church, Peter by crucifixion and Paul by the sword.

A beginning to the answer we seek is found in the words of the Psalmist: “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame” (Psalm 34:6).

When do we blush with shame if not when we have not been faithful to what is required of us; when we have not lived up to our potential; or when we have not been genuine in word, deed, or thought? In a word, we could say that we blush when we are not authentic or sincere.

Standing before their persecutors, the Prince of the Apostles and the Apostle to the Gentiles both knew their lives would be required because of their fidelity to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to proclaiming the truth of Him who died and yet now lives.

Detail, painting in the church of Quo Vadis
When confronted with the cross on which he would be crucified upside down, Saint Peter surely recalled the words the Lord Jesus spoke to him when he signified the kind of death the Galilean fisherman would suffer: “Follow me” (John 21:19). By following his Master and Teacher in death, Peter knew he would also follow him in life.

Detail, doors of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
Likewise, when confronted with the sword by which his head would be severed from his body, Saint Paul surely realized anew the words he wrote to the Church in Colossae: “He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” and knew that his life was hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 1:18; cf. Colossians 3:3), that he, too, would live.

But, again, why this great confidence? Why did they have no shame in proclaiming Jesus no longer dead? It is because they knew the truth of what they proclaimed. If we could have looked into their eyes we might have used the words the wizard Gandalf said to the Hobbit Pippin: “There is no lie in your eyes.”[1] There was no lie in the eyes of Peter or Paul, but only the conviction of truth. Their faces did not blush with shame as they looked upon the end of their earthly lives because they knew that their faces would soon be radiant with the joy of Christ even as the face of Moses radiated the glory of the Lord God (cf. Exodus 34:29).

They both knew Jesus’ face well, even though Saint Paul did not know Jesus before his crucifixion and was not present among the disciples when the Lord appeared to them before he ascended to the Father. Saint Paul himself asks, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord” (I Corinthians 9:1)? Jesus certainly showed himself to Saint Paul on the road to Damascus when he said to the Apostle, “Get up now, and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen [of me] and what you will be shown” (Acts 26:16). What else was Paul shown?

On Easter morning, we are told that when Saint Peter entered the tomb of our Lord, he “saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered [Jesus’] head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place” (John 20:6-7). John entered the tomb, as well, saw the cloths “and believed” (John 20:8). Saint Luke adds that Peter “went home amazed at what had happened” when he saw the cloths (Luke 24:12). He must have seen something more than simple cloths to believe in the Resurrection.

We know the burial cloth as the Shroud of Turin, which shows - in a remarkable and inexplicable fashion – Jesus in death. It is an image that has, since the invention of the photograph, taken on greater importance as photographic negatives have shown aspects of the image heretofore undetectable, aspects which have confirmed its authenticity. Seeing an image of the dead Jesus would surely not have brought Peter to faith in the Resurrection and filled him with amazement. What was that other cloth?

Two hours east of Rome, one can travel by car to a tiny village in the mountains called Manoppello. Up until the recent construction of the highways, arriving at this quiet village was no easy task. There, in a church formerly dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel, is housed il Volto Santo, the Holy Face.

PHOTO: Paul Badde
It is a cloth woven of byssus, a type of silk made from mollusks that, depending on the light, can be both transparent and opaque, and cannot be painted or dyed. The cloth contains the image of a man with long hair parted in the middle, with a broken nose, a swollen cheek, open eyes, and a half-open mouth. It is an image that cannot be reproduced or explained and that subtly changes as the light around it, in front of it, or behind it changes.

The veil, called the sudarium, arrived in Manoppello in 1506 by the hands of a stranger who entrusted it to Doctor Leonelli, who was sitting outside the church when the stranger arrived. The doctor opened the package inside the church who, when he saw the contents of the package, went immediately back outside only to find the stranger gone without a trace.

It remained in the doctor’s family until 1608 when it was sold by Marzia Leonelli to a Doctor De Fabritiis to ransom her husband from prison. Doctor De Fabritiis entrusted the veil to the Capuchin friars at Manoppello, in whose keeping it remains today for the veneration of the faithful.

The veil arrived in Manoppello from Rome, where it was called the Veronica, the true icon, and venerated as the face of Jesus. Unlike the Shroud of Turin, it is not he image of Jesus in death but Jesus alive, at the moment of the Resurrection, or very soon thereafter. This veil is that cloth that Saint Peter found “not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.” Seeing this veil with the image of Jesus not dead but alive explains why he “saw and believed” and left “amazed at had happened.” He looked upon the face of God and his face could not blush with shame. With these cloths, the Shroud and the sudarium, they had a witness to the truth of the Resurrection that Jesus was dead and yet now lives!

It is this face - so filled with love and mercy and preserved for us in the veil - that we, too, must seek. In looking upon the face of Jesus, we will look upon everything we desire. We will look upon the face of Truth Himself and he will look upon us with his discerning eyes of just judgment and abiding mercy, the same eyes that turned to look at Peter when the cock crowed (cf. Luke 22:61). Looking into his eyes, we, too, will weep bitterly for our sins even as we experience the tenderness of his mercy. We will be filled with peace and he will remove our shame.

With this confidence in the Resurrection, which so marked the preaching of Saints Peter and Paul, we, too, will know that “the Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom” there to enjoy the vision of his face forever (II Timothy 4:18). Amen.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013), 593

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