Saints Peter and Paul, Princes of the Apostles
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the two Princes of the Apostles and the foundations of the Church. Both were martyred for the Faith in Rome. St Peter was crucified upside down because he didn’t consider himself worthy to die in the same way as the Master, in what today is a courtyard to the left of St Peter’s Basilica. He was buried in a nearby cemetery on Vatican Hill and St Peter’s Basilica was later built over his tomb. St Paul was beheaded in a place now called ‘Tre Fontane’ (Italian for three fountains, after the legend that the three springs in the spot mark the three places where Paul’s head bounced after being beheaded). He was also buried in a nearby cemetery over which St Paul’s Basilica now stands, and it’s where I, with ten others, was ordained a Deacon in June 2014.
St Peter is important because he was the first Pope. JESUS changed his name from Simon to Peter which means ‘rock’. Then in today’s Gospel we hear Our Lord say to Peter after he has confessed Him to be the Christ, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” In these words Peter is appointed head of the Apostles and received the supreme authority to teach and govern the whole Church. This is made more explicit by the giving of the keys. “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in Heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in Heaven.” This is what we call the promise of the primacy, but the primacy was conferred by Our Lord to Peter after the Resurrection when He said to him, “Feed My lambs…feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17). The primacy of Peter was recognised by the early Church as we can see clearly in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter takes charge of the election of Matthias to replace Judas as an Apostle (1:15-22). Peter gives the sermon at Pentecost (2:14-41). Peter works the first miracle (3:1-10). It is Peter who excommunicates the first heretic Simon Magus (8:9-24) and so on. Also St Paul, when he was about to begin his mission thought it necessary to gain recognition from Peter (Galatians 1:18). Peter became the first Bishop of Rome, and like him, his successors were recognised as the Supreme Head of the Church on earth and Pope Francis is the 265th Successor of St Peter.“Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia.” That is, “Where Peter is, there is the Church.”
St Paul, originally called Saul, was the Apostle to the Gentiles. At first he was a Pharisee and persecuted the Christians, but one day when he was on the road to Damascus, JESUS appeared to him saying “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting Me?” And Saul said, “Who are You Lord?” And JESUS replied, “I am JESUS of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.” And Paul was converted and baptised (Acts 9:1-22). This changed his life completely and he went on many missionary journeys to proclaim Christ to those who had not heard of Him, particularly non-Jews.
The Church still stands today as Christ promised She would because She was founded by Him, the Son of God. She has weathered many storms and She will also survive the present crisis. She does not change her doctrine because “the doctrine is not Mine but His that sent Me” (John 7:16). Let us thank God that He founded the One, Holy, Roman, Catholic and Apostolic Church on Peter the Rock, and let us pray for the Supreme Head of the Church on earth today, Pope Francis, that God will give him the grace to follow St Peter and St Paul in zeal for the true religion and for the salvation of souls.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC