Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Scripture Readings: Acts 12: 1-11; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18; Mt 16: 13-19.

Most employees look forward to payday when they are compensated for their work.  It is money they have earned and deserve.  They don’t thank the employers for their kindness and generosity.  They have it coming.  This is a reward system which is pretty deeply impressed on all our social dealings and even our religious beliefs. We constantly assess what we deserve (for good or ill) and have a mental accounting office working 24/7.  Paul himself seems to be a spokesperson for this attitude: From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me.  He deserves the crown. He has it coming to him.

Our sensitivities, our expectations are formed in this great commerce of life. Our primary self-understanding is experienced as grounded in our taking responsibility for and suffering the consequences of our actions.  We are only answerable to ourselves, possessors of inalienable rights, and protectors of gains we have accumulated, whether material or psychological.  That is the rock on which we build our lives.  The individualism, isolation and anxiety we experience are the necessary price to be paid.

When we look at Saints Peter and Paul, we are duly amazed at their accomplishments.  The Lord must have chosen them because of their talents and capacities to preach the Gospel.  Great managerial talent and persuasive verbal skills.  But the truth is quite otherwise.   They were chosen because they were to live out of an awareness of not having deserved this choice and call. The grace of God appeared and revealed itself to them, and at the same time it revealed the fundamental flaws of the rocks they had been depending on.  Their experience of conversion illumined the inner perversion that thwarted the possibility of living in the openness and freedom of God.  Easier to settle for compensations and rewards within grasp but which make us stuck in futility and the prisons of our egos.

Paul was no longer the enforcer of a Law which demanded the harassment and elimination of all opponents. I am being poured out like a libation.  There is now a total lack of self-regard or concern. In the light of the gift of conversion, he recognized that he had been persecuting the Body of Christ. Peter was no longer driven by fear which smothered any trust which transcended what reason could expect.  Led by the angel, he recovered his senses and said, Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me. In forgiveness, he was given the freedom to walk out of that prison and be restored to himself.  He recovered his senses. His denial of Christ had to be transformed into a love which was rooted in his being forgiven: Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you.  It was the experience of being changed and transformed by the gift of forgiveness which freed both saints to live lives which were transparent to the grace given them in Christ.  Who do you say that I am? The grace of Christ, transcending the boundaries of our merit and earning power, is the rock and foundation of the living community of the Church. Our recompense and reward is in the hands of a God worthy of our trust.  Each in a different way gathered together the one family of Christ (Preface for the day’s Eucharist).

 

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Scripture Readings: Acts 12:1-11;  2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18;  Mt 16:13-19          

Today we celebrate the unity of two great apostles, Peter and Paul. Perhaps you remember one of the Peanuts comic strips where Lucy orders her younger brother, Linus, to change the TV channels. Feeling annoyed, Linus snaps back, “What makes you think you can waltz right in here and take over?” Lucy holds up her fist and says, “See these five fingers. Individually they’re nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a fist they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” Convinced by her argument Linus replies, “What channel do you want?

In unity there’s strength. Among Aesop’s fables worth repeating we read 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 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.  “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.”

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).

I’ll tell you a story that I’ve told before, about the bonds of unity that Christian love can forge among us.  You know that Fr. Brendan and I have been friends for over sixty years.  We can call on each other for help and support whenever needed.  One day, about six years 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?”  She replied, “In Ogden.”  I said, “Where’s Ogden?”  She answered, “In Utah.”  Then it hit me.  Brendan had written done my number on the form he filled out when being admitted. After I told the nurse 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 was helping out.

We are stronger when united than when alone.  When this church was being renovated in 1975, we asked our founding monastery in Ireland, Mount Melleray, to send us a couple small stones from their property.  We put one piece of their black granite into the West wall of our church underneath the Paschal Candle, and the other on the East wall facing the tabernacle as a sign of 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 bishop and the whole body of Christ.

Fingers cut off from the hand are dead.  But united with the hand they share a common life. They become 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.  We stretch out our hands to them by our prayers, offering them strength in their weakness.  Like Saints Peter and Paul we want to go to heaven and bring as many people with us as we can.  Individually our fingers are weak. But when I curl them together around your hand we form a strong bond that is wonderful to behold.    

 

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Scripture Readings:   Acts 12:1-11; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18; Mt 16:13-19                        

Do you have a favorite quotation from the letters of Saints Peter and Paul? Here are two passages from these apostles that belong with the most important things I have learned in life.

The first is from St. Peter’s second letter, chapter 1, verse 4: “God has given us … his precious and very great promises, so that through them you … may become partakers in the divine nature. Just think, the purpose of our existence is to share in God’s own divine nature! Heaven is not only total happiness in a human way. It is sharing in God’s level of existence and happiness, being able to do what God can do. The Catholic Catechism repeats this good news twenty-four times.1 Every day I think about this gift of God, that we are called to share in God’s divinity, in divine happiness, for all eternity. There is nothing more that God can give us after giving us everything by sharing his divine nature with us.

The second passage is from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 28: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” All things! Even the sufferings I endure, and the consequences of my sins, and the tragedies of life can work for good when I offer them to God out of love.   That’s because prayer is always valuable, always fruitful. Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” So, when we take our sufferings and offer them as prayers of intercession out of love for God and others, then all things work together for good. Nothing is wasted. I want to help as many people get to heaven as I can.  And this teaching of St. Paul promises that all I do and suffer can work for good in the world. We all have much to endure and suffer in this life. What a great way to live by offering all of it out of love for the eternal salvation of others! I don’t like suffering, but I’m so glad it doesn’t have to be wasted and can be offered to do so much good.        

What are your favorite passages from Saint Peter and Saint Paul that shape and guide your life?

1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Doubleday, NY, 1994: ## 1, 51, 52, 398, 460, 526, 541, 694, 759, 1131, 1129, 1212, 1240, 1265, 1691, 1692, 1721, 1726, 1812, 1988, 1996, 1999, 2009.

 

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Scripture Readings:  Acts 12:1-11;  2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18;  Mt 16:13-19              

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.”  They did it 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 unity there’s strength. Today we celebrate the unity of two great apostles, Peter and Paul. 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 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? 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 the abbot of 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 of every place and time, with Pope Francis in Rome, and with Peter and Paul and all the saints in heaven.  

 

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

[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.

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

[Scripture Readings: Acts: 12: 1-11; 2Tim. 4: 6-8; Mt. 16: 13-19]

I doubt that anyone would disagree that we are living in unsettled times; both in secular society and in the Church. There are disagreements in regard to why our times are unsettled and what should be done about it, and the lack of an obvious cause which would indicate an obvious direction in which to go has given rise to a relatively high level of anxiety within society and within the Church. In times like this I find it helpful to reflect on church history. Crises are not new to the Church. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that the history of the Church is a history of successive crises.

In this morning's reading from the Acts of the Apostles we learn that at the very beginning of the Church one of its founding leaders had been arrested and executed and the apostle to whom the Lord had entrusted the primary responsibility for the guidance and leadership of the Church had been arrested and was destined to be executed. It would be good for us to remember as we look back over two thousand years that this was a church that had no power, no influence and little to no wealth. An unbelieving observer would say that they were at the mercy of political circumstances. That is partially true. Faith gives us a deeper understanding and the realization that then as now the Church exists in the mercy of God. The early Christians used the only power they had: prayer; and their prayer was heard.

When we are tempted to become disheartened by the contemporary situation and our seeming inability to do anything about it, we would do well to remind ourselves that we too live in the mercy of God and not at the mercy of circumstances. If we find that our faith is weak, how do we answer the question Jesus asked his disciples: Who do you say that I am? An outstanding religious leader? A moral teacher? A healer of our infirmities? Those are all true, but they are answers from flesh and blood. We have the Father's revelation beginning with St. Peter, proclaimed tirelessly by St. Paul and continuing down through the centuries that Jesus Christ is the Son of Living God. He is not simply a great figure of the past. He promised to remain with his Church through the ages and he remains with us today. In a different way saints Peter and Paul remain with us today. We are members of the same body that has Jesus Christ as its head and that is enlivened by the Holy Spirit; and we can call on saints Peter and Paul to support and guide us as we confront the challenges of today.

The Holy Spirit distributes his gifts for the building up of the Church according to his will. We all have been given gifts to contribute to the work of the Church which began with the New Testament Church and continues today. We can waste a lot of time comparing our gifts with those of others. Jesus Christ has called us to service and it is to Jesus Christ that we are accountable. Before any of the other gifts we have, we have all received the gift of prayer. Prayer brings us into the presence of God, enables us to hear the call of Christ and to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in carrying out the work to which we have been called. I doubt that anyone here would presume to rank himself or herself with St. Peter or St. Paul. Nevertheless they are our examples of dedicated service growing out of love for Christ, and in this we can and should imitate them. It would be a false humility that would prevent us from seeing the example of all the saints from the original disciples of Christ down to today as examples to strengthen our faith and guide us as followers of Jesus Christ.

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

[Scripture Readings: Acts 12:1-11; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18; Mt 16:13-19]

As one leaves St. Peter’s Square in Rome and starts moving into the Basilica, two majestic statues greet the visitor. One sports a curly hair and beard and holds on to a set of keys, while the other, also bearded but bald, holds a book and a sword. Tradition identifies these two figures as St. Peter and St. Paul, respectively. St. Peter has a finger pointing downward, while St. Paul points to a distance. There are many interpretations to this symbolic gesture. To a tourist seeking direction, St. Peter seems to say, “Yes, this is the Basilica named after me.” Then St. Paul adds, “The Basilica dedicated to me is out there, outside the city walls.” However, in our Catholic Faith, the two serve as the major pillars of the Church in the growth and spread of the Faith. St. PeterOur Opening Prayers mention that “through them, the Church first received the faith.” It was through the shedding of blood, in giving up their lives that this faith began to take root in Rome and the rest of the world. St. Peter was crucified upside down, for he felt that he was not worthy to be crucified like his master. In the Roman form of punishment, such crucifixion was done on the slaves. Together with other martyrs, the Vicar of Christ on earth was martyred on the Vatican Hill. His remains lie beneath the main altar of the basilica. St. Paul was martyred by beheading near the Basilica named after him. His remains are found beneath the altar of the basilica.

Peter was the one entrusted by the Lord to lead the Church which he founded, as we heard in today’s Gospel reading. After professing Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he was told by the Lord, “You are Peter and upon this rock, I will build my Church…I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven,(Mt 16: 16, 18-19). He heads the group of apostles and all the faithful in the profession of faith in the Lord. Paul, on the other hand, was chosen by the Lord to be the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” Though he was a former Pharisee and persecutor of the Church, he was called by the Lord to conversion on his way to Damascus and was about to persecute the followers of the way of Christ. In terms of difference in their roles, as Paul voiced it in his letter to the Galatians, Peter was the apostle among the Jews-turned Christians, while Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, (Gal 2:8). Thus, one can understand the gestures of the figures of the two apostles at St. Peter’s Square also in this vein. Peter remains the head of Christ’s Church, but in sowing the seed of faith, the two represent the complimentary roles needed in the Church. The growth of the life of the Church involves the dynamic interaction of two forces, the evangelization ad intra (that is, on the life of the Church within her) and the evangelization ad extra (that is, the missionary efforts of the Church in preaching the Gospel to the world). In physics, we were taught that the rotary movement of an object involves the centripetal and the centrifugal forces. Their balanced interaction keeps the object intact in its motion. For the Church to grow and develop, we need the two complimentary movements in balance. The Christian communities need to undergo always constant renewal through catechesis and ongoing formation. As it grows, it is inevitable for it to reach out and share the Faith even to those who have not heard it. We are undergoing a renewed understanding of the missions, but the light of witnessing to Christ inevitably becomes visible even to other nations, faiths or the searchers for the longings of the human heart. St. PaulOn this solemn feast of the two apostles, we remember in our prayers Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI as the successor of Peter. We pray for all the bishops of the world in union with Christ and his Vicar. We pray too for all missionaries, both in foreign lands and far corners of the world where the Gospel still needs to be heard. But we pray for all those who minister in civilized and affluent places where re-evangelization in the Faith is much needed.

For our own growth in spirituality, the feast today imparts an important lesson. From Acts, we have seen how Peter though under tight security in prison was miraculously released through the assistance of an angel and was led to freedom, (Acts 12:3-11). He thought it was but a vision, yet it was for real. God’s grace freed him, but he followed as directed. In the second reading, we hear Paul’s own commitment to the Gospel. He sees himself as a sacred libation to God, as an athlete about to reach the finish line and wear the crown of victory, (2 Tim 4:6-8) . Towards the end of that letter, he affirmed that the Lord has been his strength and help to fulfill his mission, (v.17-18). The dynamics that comes out clear then in our relationship with God is the complimentary interaction of God’s grace and our cooperation. We may not be witnessing miracles as heard, but the Lord stands by us always to assist us. But we need to give our best efforts too so that the mission which the Lord entrusts to us as His disciples will be realized. God calls and helps, but we must say Yes — in word and deed, even to the point of shedding blood, like Peter and Paul. In saying Yes to the Lord, our individual prayers nurture our faith and strengthen our resolve to follow the Lord. But as we have noted in Acts, while Peter was in prison, the Church continued in unceasing and fervent prayers for his safety. Indeed, he was kept safe and liberated by the Lord. Even in prayers, there is the complimentary value of personal and communal prayer. Our Liturgy today, the Holy Eucharist, is the greatest prayer which the Church offers for each one of us—to keep us strengthened in our pilgrimage of faith.

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

[Scripture Readings: Acts: 12: 1-11; 2Tim. 4: 6-8, 17-18; Mt. 16:13-19]

A common human characteristic is a desire for variety, but not too much variety; and a desire for unity, but not too much uniformity. Probably without a whole lot of reflection we have each developed our personal techniques for keeping our desires in a workable balance. It is when our desires get out of balance that tensions set in and we began to feel frustrated and on edge. A number of commentators on contemporary society are saying that as a nation and perhaps world wide the degree of complexity in many of our life situations has gotten seriously out of balance with our desire for unity. In order to restore a sense of tranquility in our lives there is an increasing tendency for people to associate almost exclusively with likeminded people. Unfortunately one of the results of this solution is that the likeminded associations are becoming polarized.

The Church has not been spared this phenomenon and as a result we are becoming less and less an effective witness to the unity for which Christ prayed on the night of the Last Supper. We are becoming polarized into liberals and conservatives, traditionalists and progressives, and a variety of other labels; and in some cases the labels seem to take on more importance than the common faith we share. When I am trying to sort through a contemporary problem in the Church I find it helpful to look to the Church’s history. I don’t think history simply repeats itself, but there are similarities that run through the Church’s history down to the present.

Similar situations to those that we are facing go back to the Church’s beginnings. One example arose in Antioch when St. Paul confronted St. Peter for refusing table fellowship with the Gentile Christians. It is easy to imagine that it was a tense and painful experience for those who were involved, not the least for Peter and Paul themselves. Both of them had a profound love for Christ. Both of them were dedicated servants of the Church. But they disagreed on what it meant for the Church to include both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. We don’t know the details of how their reconciliation was worked out, but they were reconciled; probably by the time that Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians. And they both gave their lives for the common faith they shared.

If we find that our desire for unity is pulling us away from charity toward those we disagree with, we would do well to reflect on today’s feast. True, there are limits to what can be accepted into the body of our common faith, and we do not have to sacrifice our convictions for the sake of a superficial tranquility. There may be times when we are required to take a firm stand for what we believe. Nevertheless, as followers of Christ we are called to treat everyone, including those with whom we have strong disagreements, with respect and charity. When confronted with what seem to be irreconcilable opinions we would do well to follow the example of the Church and try to see the positive contribution of both positions. That will be a more difficult and at times a more painful course than choosing one or the other poles of contention. We can put our trust in God’s care for his Church. We can fix our hope on the eternal reward that Christ has promised to all his followers. We can open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, who will guide us in the way of compassion and understanding. That will not necessarily resolve our differences. It will allow us to disagree in the unity of Christ’s love.

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

[Scripture Readings: Acts 12:1-11; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18; Mt. 16:13-19]

Every human life is made up of experiences that were intended and those that were unintended. Thirty-five year old Fred Frailty decided to drive from Farley to Chicago with the intention of seeing a Cubs game. On I-80 he had a flat tire and a car pulled over to give him aid. Behind the wheel is a very attractive young lady named Bambi LaRue, perhaps a stage name. From her style of dress he guesses she is from New York or L.A. She fires his imagination. She gives him a ride to a truck stop and Fred arranges for his car to be towed in. In appreciation for the lift, he invites her into the restaurant for a cup of coffee. When they stroll into the restaurant a siren goes off, bells ring, bright lights flash and camera’s roll. With Bambi on his arm he is the 15 millionth customer to patronize the eating place. They are on national TV. Back in Farley, Fred’s wife turns on the evening news to see her husband and the drop-dead-beautiful Bambi make their historic entry into the restaurant. He wins an all-expense paid two-week vacation to Bermuda. There, he and his wife finally reconcile. His arm has healed; the swelling around his eyes has gone down, and their darling daughter Deirdre is the fruit of their reconciliation. He has been loved out of proportion to his desserts.

The point of this is that the significance of past event—cultural or personal—depends far more on what happens to people than on what they intend. Our first two readings today show that to be the case for Saints Peter and Paul. It started when Peter went out to prepare his boat for another day of fishing. Then Jesus walked by, called him and said he would make him a fisher of men. In today’s gospel we see the fruit of that event: Peter confesses his belief in the words and person of Jesus and the entire direction and duration of his life is changed. Paul sets out on the road to Damascus to preserve the legal purity of religious observance when a personal encounter with Christ happens to him and he becomes convinced of grace, of the giftedness of life in the Spirit. The story of their lives on those days cannot be told without telling what happened to them that they did not intend.

And did not our monastic vocations happen to us? We began taking intentional actions to do the good. We readily took to Ch. Four of our Holy Rule and did good works. But are we still here all these years later because we managed well, or is it because of things that happened to us, because our actions had consequence we never intended or foresaw? More to the point, didn’t things happen to our interior life that we never anticipated; that we didn’t even know enough to want?

Broadly speaking, we have a very imperfect control over how our lives turn out. This lack of control should prompt us to be open-minded about the unexpected and unintended consequences of our actions. For a monk, this lack of control occasions wisdom. Wisdom concerns how our life experiences can attain to their proper meaning and help us stick to what endures. Thus it did for Peter and Paul. Wisdom relies on the gift of being able to make distinctions: we distinguish between what is worthwhile and what is useless. Ps. 89[90] v. 12 gives us the distinction that is the basis of all distinctions: God alone is God and we are his creatures. We take the unintended consequences of our actions—pleasing and unpleasing—as coming from his hand.

St. Benedict stresses this in his very first step of Humility. Those Steps stave off reactions of cynicism, resentment, and conceit. They make us receptive to the action of God in the unexpected course of our lives.

The significance of people’s lives’ depends far more on what happens to them than on what they intend. Nowhere is this lack of proportion more keenly felt than when we experience the presence and love of God. The lack of proportion of God’s love to a man’s desserts will reduce any man to tears. Perhaps St. Benedict knew this when he wrote the chapters on Reverence at Prayer (20.3) and On the Oratory (52.4); he said to leave a monk alone when he wants to cry before his God. A man cries when his heart is broken and nothing breaks it more than being loved beyond what he knows he deserves.

For the follower of Christ this broken heart is not to be healed, but listened to. True gratitude runs deep; it sets our hearts in order. When love is set in order in us then the seeming chaos of events is set in order. It moves us to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

[Scripture Readings: Acts 12: 1-11; 2Tim. 4: 6-8, 17-18; Mt. 16: 13-19]

It seems to me that it is generally characteristic of the narratives of both the Old and New Testaments that the characters in the biblical narratives are more than individuals. Since the word of God is also directed to us who live centuries after the scriptures were written, the individuals in the narratives of scriptures while being individuals in themselves are also types who tell us something about who we are or who we are called to become.

The New Testament gives us little biographical information about Jesus, who is the center of the New Testament’s good news. Not surprisingly then it gives us less information about those who were Jesus’ companions or who were called to bring Jesus’ message to later generations. Nevertheless from what little information we have, it is evident that Saints Peter and Paul were very different persons. Peter came from a rural, Palestinian background. There is no evidence that he was educated in Jewish history and traditions beyond any other male of his social class. Paul was an urban, diaspora Jew; a Pharisee who took pride in his knowledge and practice of Torah, and he gives evidence of being familiar with Greco-Roman literary styles. Peter was a companion of Jesus during his earthly ministry. He was the acknowledged leader of Jesus’ disciples and Jesus designated him to be the rock on which the church was to be founded. Paul had an encounter with the risen Christ while he was persecuting the church of which Peter was the head.

It is not surprising then that Peter and Paul had different approaches to spreading the good news of Jesus Christ and different expectations in regard to the church. We know there was at least one confrontation between them. Yet, greater than the differences between them, they shared a deep, even a passionate love for Jesus and a dedication to share that love with others. Their shared love and dedication led them both to share in the death of Jesus through martyrdom.

We may easily wonder how these two very different men who are even more different from us can be examples for us. We are centuries apart in our cultures and backgrounds. None of us has a vocation comparable to theirs. Nevertheless we are all called to share their love and devotion to Jesus Christ and their dedication in serving the church according to the call each of us has received from Christ.