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Sts Peter and Paul

Peter and PaulA meditation on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul

“Conduct yourselves with fear in the time of your sojourning” (1 Peter 1:17).

These are the words of the great Apostle Peter, words that have a dual foundation: heavenly inspiration and personal experience. By divine inspiration, Peter, a simple fisherman, became a teacher of the people, a pillar of the Faith and a powerful miracle-worker. According to his own experience he learned that all of his wisdom and power was of God and, because of that, one should possess the fear of God. No other fear, except the fear of God.

The foolish one becomes frightened only when lightning flashes and thunder cracks but the wise man fears God every day and every hour. The Creator of lightning and thunder is more awesome than both of them and He does not appear before you, from time to time, as lightning and thunder rather He is continually before you and does not move away from you. That is why it is not enough, from time to time, to have fear of God, but one must breathe in the fear of God. The fear of God is the ozone in the suffocating atmosphere of our soul. This ozone brings purity, easiness, sweet fragrance and health. Until he had become strengthened in the fear of God, Peter was only Peter and not an apostle, hero, teacher of the people and miracle-worker.

O my brethren, let us not rejoice before the harvest. This, our life, is not a harvest but rather, it is a sowing, labor, sweat and fear. The plower lives in fear until he has gathered the fruits from the field. Let us also delay our rejoicing for the day of harvest, for now is the time for labor and fear. Will I be saved? This question should torment every one of us, in the same way that the plower is tormented by the question: “Will I reap the fruit of my labor in the field?” The plower labors and fears everyday. Let us also labor and fear “all the time of our sojourning” on earth.

O awesome and powerful Lord, sustain us in Your fear.

To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.

Take from the Prologue from Ochrid

Saints Peter and Paul

Ss Peter and PaulWe honor the great apostles of the Church, Saints Peter and Paul. Across the Christian community they are celebrated today. The Gospel reveal the wonderful words to Jesus, such as “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” and “Lord you know that I love you.”

Peter and Paul set the standard: they sometimes get relationship wrong, as in the denials (and persecution) of Christ. Both reject the Jesus at first but the Lord has the final say. Both show their willingness to be open to grace which I find striking and inviting. My patron, Paul, on the other hand, gives us sublime spiritual theology about Jesus Christ, the Church, grace, generativity, and much more for the Christian life.

The dual feast today gives us a clear example of how to live in a profound complementarity with Christians so that our witness can deeply nourish the spiritual life of the Church and generate the hundredfold Christ promised us.

Let us pray for the unity of the Church!

Apostles as earth’s pillars

St Peter & PaulYou can see from the three posts on this feast of Saints Peter and Paul that these blessed witnesses mean something to me, besides the obvious. One of the things to consider is to remember that we all need good formation in the Christian faith. How else to appreciate the roots of the faith but to know how the Church sees the pillars. Here is the Cistercian Father and Saint Aelred of Rielvaux’s (1110-1167), sermon (18; PL 195, 298), for the feast:

“upon this rock I will build my church” The earth moves with all its inhabitants, I even signed his columns” (Sl 75.4). All the Apostles are pillars of the Earth, but first the two whose feast we celebrate. They are the two columns which support the Church through his teaching, his prayer and example of their constancy. It was the Lord himself that strengthened these columns; because initially they were weak, unable to stand and support the other. And here pops up the grand plan of the Lord: they were always strong, one might think that his strength came from themselves. So before they build, the Lord wanted to show what they were capable of, to let everyone know that your strength comes from God. […] Pedro was released on Earth by a simple voice created […]; another column was also very weak: ‘ even though I have been a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent” (1 Tim 1.13). […]

That’s why we praise wholeheartedly these saints, our parents, who have suffered a lot for the Lord and who persevered with so much fortitude. It costs nothing to persevere in joy, happiness and peace; be great is to be stoned, scourged, flogged for Christ (2 Cor 11.25), and persevere with Christ. It’s great to be cursed and blessed as Paul, being chased and endure, be maligned and comfort, be like the garbage in the world and that take glory (1 Cor -13 4.12). […] And what about Peter? Even if he hadn’t endured anything for Christ, we would be happy to celebrate today, having been crucified for Him. […] He knew where he was the one whom she loved, one who wanted […]: its cross was your way to heaven.

Symbols of Unity and Peace: Peter and Paul

Sts Peter and Paul 4th century Roman catacombsThe saints honored today reveal much about who we are as Christians. Remember Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles, and Peter as first bishop of Antioch before going to Rome to the first bishop there. Have you ever wondered why they go together? The image used here is an early 4th century image of  Peter and Paul together found in the catacombs of Rome. A friend, Fr Dustin Lyon, an orthodox priest friend offered the following detail on the apostles’ connection.

“[On icons] Peter and Paul exchange the kiss of peace. …The kiss of the first pope [bishop of Rome] and the ‘apostle of the people’ symbolizes the unity of the Church… It was a peace they had managed to establish at the Council of Jerusalem in the year 48, even though the former represented the Church of the Law (circumcised Jews) and the latter the Church of Grace (uncircumcised pagans). Yet at Antioch, when Peter avoids the Gentiles, Paul reprimands him, ‘I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned’ (Galatians 2:11). …They are both represented in all icons in which the apostles are gathered, even events at which Paul was not present.” (Alfredo Tradigo, Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2004), pg. 267).

The great Augustine, bishop of Hippo teaches:

“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.’ (Psalm 19:4) These martyrs realize what they taught: they pursued justice, the confessed the truth, they died for it… Both apostles share the same feast day, but 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.”

Saints Peter and Paul

The annual liturgical observance of the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul is an exceptional day for the Christian Church, especially the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. These saints represent for us the founders of the Church in Rome (but in reality the church universal–the church to the nations). Martyrs both; Peter and Paul knew Jesus Christ in very unique ways; both called all of humanity to seek the Lord and to submit to the Lord of the Harvest, the Good Shepherd who cares intimately for each of us.

The sole American metropolitan archbishop –among 23 others– to have received the pallium is His Excellency Archbishop Leonard Paul Blair. Three other archbishops will receive the pallium at another time.

Pope Francis’ is typical of his concern for our encounter with the Lord, and our discernment of how we live what has been given to us (the gospel, tradition, magisterial teaching). He calls you and me to attend to the experience of the apostles in their struggle to follow the Lord faithfully and with conviction. In many ways Francis echoes what Father Carrón of Communion and Liberation taught us in this year’s annual Fraternity Spiritual Exercises (2014) regarding the essential of Christian life: Christ and His mission. “Following” Christ, belonging to Christ is often replaced by our sin and temptation. But as Francis adeptly reminds, we follow the experience of Peter and Paul.

The Holy Father’s homily follows.

Francis at the statue of St Peter June 29 2014On this Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the principal patrons of Rome, we welcome with joy and gratitude the Delegation sent by the Ecumenical Patriarch, our venerable and beloved brother Bartholomaios, and led by Metropolitan Ioannis.  Let us ask the Lord that this visit too may strengthen our fraternal bonds as we journey toward that full communion between the two sister Churches which we so greatly desire.

“Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod” (Acts 12:11).  When Peter began his ministry to the Christian community of Jerusalem, great fear was still in the air because of Herod’s persecution of members of the Church.  There had been the killing of James, and then the imprisonment of Peter himself, in order to placate the people.  While Peter was imprisoned and in chains, he heard the voice of the angel telling him, “Get up quickly… dress yourself and put on your sandals… Put on your mantle and follow me!” (Acts 12:7-8).  The chains fell from him and the door of the prison opened before him.  Peter realized that the Lord had “rescued him from the hand of Herod”; he realized that the Lord had freed him from fear and from chains.  Yes, the Lord liberates us from every fear and from all that enslaves us, so that we can be truly free.  Today’s liturgical celebration expresses this truth well in the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord has freed me from all my fears”.

The problem for us, then, is fear and looking for refuge in our pastoral responsibilities.

I wonder, dear brother bishops, are we afraid?  What are we afraid of?  And if we are afraid, what forms of refuge do we seek, in our pastoral life, to find security?  Do we look for support from those who wield worldly power?  Or do we let ourselves be deceived by the pride which seeks gratification and recognition, thinking that these will offer us security?  Dear brother Bishops, where do we find our security?

The witness of the Apostle Peter reminds us that our true refuge is trust in God.  Trust in God banishes all fear and sets us free from every form of slavery and all worldly temptation.  Today the Bishop of Rome and other bishops, particularly the metropolitans who have received the pallium, feel challenged by the example of Saint Peter to assess to what extent each of us puts his trust in the Lord.

Peter recovered this trust when Jesus said to him three times: “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21: 15,16,17).  Peter thrice confessed his love for Jesus, thus making up for his threefold denial of Christ during the passion.  Peter still regrets the disappointment which he caused the Lord on the night of his betrayal.  Now that the Lord asks him: “Do you love me?”, Peter does not trust himself and his own strength, but instead entrusts himself to Jesus and his mercy: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Jn 21:17).  Precisely at this moment fear, insecurity and cowardice dissipate.

Peter experienced how God’s fidelity is always greater than our acts of infidelity, stronger than our denials.  He realizes that the God’s fidelity dispels our fears and exceeds every human reckoning.  Today Jesus also asks us: “Do you love me?”.  He does so because he knows our fears and our struggles.  Peter shows us the way: we need to trust in the Lord, who “knows everything” that is in us, not counting on our capacity to be faithful, but on his unshakable fidelity.  Jesus never abandons us, for he cannot deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13).  He is faithful. The fidelity which God constantly shows to us pastors, far in excess of our merits, is the source of our confidence and our peace.  The Lord’s fidelity to us keeps kindled within us the desire to serve him and to serve our sisters and brothers in charity.

The love of Jesus must suffice for Peter.  He must no longer yield to the temptation to curiosity, jealousy, as when, seeing John nearby, he asks Jesus: “Lord, what about this man?” (Jn 21:21).  But Jesus, in the face of these temptations, says to him in reply: “What is it to you? Follow me” (Jn 21:22).  This experience of Peter is a message for us too, dear brother archbishops.  Today the Lord repeats to me, to you, and to all pastors: Follow me!  Waste no time in questioning or in useless chattering; do not dwell on secondary things, but look to what is essential and follow me.  Follow me without regard for the difficulties.  Follow me in preaching the Gospel.  Follow me by the witness of a life shaped by the grace you received in baptism and holy orders.  Follow me by speaking of me to those with whom you live, day after day, in your work, your conversations and among your friends.  Follow me by proclaiming the Gospel to all, especially to the least among us, so that no one will fail to hear the word of life which sets us free from every fear and enables us to trust in the faithfulness of God. Follow me!

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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