Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul at Mississippi Abbey
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Acts 12:1-11; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18; Mt 16:13-19 ]
If you think I'm going to start this homily with another story from Peanuts, you're right. In one comic strip Lucy tells her younger brother, Linus, to change TV channels. Feeling annoyed, Linus snaps back, “What makes you think you can waltz right in here and take over?” Lucy holds up her hand and says, “See these five fingers. Individually they're nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” Linus replies, “What channel do you want?”
In unity there's strength. Among Aesop's fables there's one about a father whose sons were always fighting among themselves. One day he took some sticks and tied them together into a bundle. Then he said, “Break it in half.” Each son tried with all his strength, but not one of them could break it. Then taking the bundle apart he gave a stick to each of his sons. “Now,” he said, “break your sticks in half.” And they did, easily. He said, “My sons, if you are of one mind, and unite to help each other, you will have a strength that none of your enemies can break. But if you are divided, you will easily be broken.”
In a united community there's strength. Today we celebrate the unity of two great apostles, Peter and Paul. St. Paul writes, “… be of the same mind, having the same love, in full accord with each other. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil 2:2-4).
A good Christian man who was an executive “headhunter,” someone who recruits CEO's for large corporations, told this story: “When I interview a potential executive, I like to put him at ease. I offer him a drink, take off my coat, undo my tie, throw up my feet and talk about baseball, football, family, whatever, until he's completely relaxed. After he's comfortable and disarmed, I lean forward, look him square in the eye and ask, 'What's your purpose in life?' It's amazing how these great men fall apart at that question and stumble all over themselves. One day I had a man all relaxed, drink in hand, feet resting on a soft ottoman, talking about the Chicago Cubs. Then I leaned forward and said, 'Bob, what's your purpose in life?' He replied without blinking an eye, 'To go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can.'” The headhunter said, “For the first time in my career, I was speechless.” Here was a contemporary Christian who had the apostolic spirit of Saints Peter and Paul, looking not only to his own interests, but to the interests of others, to building up the Body of Christ. Like St. Paul this man could say, “I want to be all things to all people that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
I'll tell you a story about the bonds of unity that Christian love can forge among us. You know that Fr. Brendan and I have been friends for over fifty years. We can call on each other for help and support whenever we are in need. A few days ago I received a phone call from the hospital. A nurse said that Brendan Freeman was almost finished with his procedure and wanted me to come and pick him up. I asked which hospital he was in. She said, “The Regional Hospital.” I asked, “Where's that? I never heard of it.” She replied, “In Ogden.” I said, “Where's Ogden?” She answered, “In Utah.” Then it hit me. Out of habit, knowing he could depend on me, Brendan absentmindedly gave the nurse my number. When I told her that I was in Iowa she laughed and said, “Well, you can't exactly get here in half an hour now, can you?” I replied, “I won't even try!” Then I gave her the telephone number of our monks at Holy Spirit Abbey in Utah where Brendan is helping out.
We are stronger when united than when alone. But our unity is not only a way to be stronger Christians. It is the only way we can be saved. We can't be saved alone, like branches cut off from the vine, or like fingers cut off from the hand. There's no salvation outside the Church, that is, outside the Mystical Body of Christ.
Why can't we be saved alone? Why can't we go to God directly without being united with others? Why is my salvation untied to that of Peter and Paul and all other Christians?
Because our destiny, our purpose in life, our eternal happiness is participation in God's own divine nature. And there is only one divine nature. We share in it together or we don't share in it at all. Jesus prayed, “Father, … may they be one as we are one, … As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, that they may become completely one” (Jn 17:11-22). St. Peter writes, “His divine power has given us everything … so that [we] … may become partakers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4). There's no salvation if we are cut off from sharing in God's divine nature with all the other children of God.
When our church at New Melleray was being renovated in 1975, we asked our founding monastery in Ireland, Mount Melleray, to send us a small stone from their property. We put this piece of black granite into the West wall of our church underneath the Paschal Candle, as a sign of our unity with our brothers in Ireland. In a similar way, at every Mass, just before Communion, the priest breaks off a small piece of the host and drops it into the chalice as a sign of our unity with the whole Body of Christ, with our bishop and the local Church, and with all Christians everywhere.
You see these fingers. Cut off from the hand they are dead. But united with the hand they share a common life. They are a sign of what our union with each other is like as Christians. We have a great vocation in our life of prayer! We pray for those who are dying today, who have lived for themselves alone, who are cut off, about to be lost forever. We stretch out our hands to them by our prayers, offering them strength in their weakness. Every verse of every Psalm that we pray in the Liturgy of the Hours has a good effect in the world, for it is God's will to give many graces because we pray for them. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find! We want to go to heaven and bring as many people with us as we can, just like Saints Peter and Paul.
See these five fingers. Individually they're nothing. But when I curl them together around your hand they form a strong bond, a helping hand, a unity that is wonderful to behold.