Church Honours Saints Peter and Paul

The feast of the two apostles and martyrs, Peter and Paul, takes the Church back to her very origins.

These two men, completely different in background and character, were nevertheless destined by God to leave an indelible mark upon the Church’s foundation and growth, to shape her identity and to define her mission.

Simon, son of Jonah, was a native of Bethsaida, a small township on the Lake of Gennesareth. He was a fisherman by trade, with his brother Andrew. Jesus made him his disciple, and even more, entrusted him with the care of his community of followers. This turning point in Simon’s life came when he acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, an inspired act of faith. Jesus gave Simon his mission as head of the disciples, and changed his name to Peter, which means “rock”.

It was Peter to whom the Lord first appeared after his resurrection and Peter who preached the first sermon on the feast of Pentecost. It was Peter again who addressed the Jewish Council, and who received the first Jewish, and later pagan converts to the faith. It was Peter who presided over the first council of the apostles in Jerusalem, who later went to Rome where he was martyred in the first Christian persecution under Nero.

Paul, also called Saul, was a cosmopolitan Jew from Tarsus, Syria, and a Pharisee by conviction, well versed in the Jewish law. Determined to stamp out the followers of Jesus, he was struck by the Lord in a shattering conversion experience. Paul became instead the most zealous of the apostles and the Church’s greatest theologian.

His letters to the young churches in the Greek-speaking world are classics of interpretation, where Paul struggles to explain the mystery of Jesus to his early Christians. His lasting contribution to theology was his conviction that we are saved through our faith in Jesus, and not through rituals we do by ourselves. Another seminal idea of Paul was his understanding of the Church as the body of Christ, gifted with the charisms of the Spirit.

Both Peter and Paul were men of action. Paul singlehandedly planted and nurtured churches in all the Greek cities of the eastern Roman Empire. His epistles are the clearest picture of church life with all its challenges and tensions in the mid first century. Imprisoned in later life, Paul ended up in Rome, where like Peter, he was martyred during the first persecution of Christians under Nero.

Our joint celebration of the feast of Peter and Paul is a statement that the fullness of the Christian life comes from blending our profession of faith with our proclamation of the Gospel. With the disciples of Jesus, identity and mission always go together.

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