15 Jul MEN IN LOVE WITH GOD
On the Feast of the Martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul
Lessons on the Lives and Leadership of Saints Peter and Paul that paved their way to become the “Two Pillars of the Catholic Church”
“No one has greater love than this —to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13. Jesus sets a new command for his apostles to live by, that they love one another as He has loved them. This sacrificial love, as we have seen in the lives of Peter and Paul, blossomed into a powerful ministry and reached its pinnacle in their martyrdom. They both preached in Rome and died in Rome, which makes their martyrdom worthy to be celebrated on the same day (June 29th), a day when we commemorate their title as the “Two Pillars” of our Church. Standing for the truth just as Christ stood as truth himself, Peter and Paul never wavered in their faith even if it meant suffering just as Christ suffered for the glory of God. As we call ourselves Christians, that is, followers of Christ, we are also called for the same mission: “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that Jesus commanded.” Mt. 28:19-20. Following the footsteps of Peter and Paul as models of our faith, let’s learn how to preach the gospel through our lives and follow Christ in faithfulness.
Who is Peter?
He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). – John 1:42
Simon was an ordinary fisherman, to whom Jesus gave the name Peter. He was casting a net into the sea when Jesus called him to be a fisher for people instead. “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Mt. 4:20). Peter may have been uneducated, but he was not completely ignorant. He has a strong faith, but it was imperfect. He was sure about accepting Jesus’ call, but he had questions. It’s through his immediate resort to follow, his immediate plea for the mercy of the Lord (Lk. 5:8) and his immediate weeping for his denial (Mt. 26:75) that Peter grew steadily in his faith.
“Stand up; I am only a mortal.” – Acts 10:26
Peter never took personal glory for all the signs and wonders the Lord worked through him. Peter humbled himself as a man. On many occasions we see all his vulnerabilities during his apostleship. First, when Jesus foretells his own death, Peter protested. It must not happen, he said. But Jesus told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mt. 16:23) Second, when Jesus foretells that he would be deserted by his disciples, Peter said he would never desert Jesus. But Jesus told Peter, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” (Mt. 26:34) Third, when Jesus asked his disciples to sit with him as he prays in Gethsemane, “He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?” (Mk. 14:37) Peter —the one whom Jesus called a stumbling block, one who denied him 3 times, and one who was caught sleeping on the eve of his passion— did not show much promise as an apostle. But Jesus did not see Peter as who he was; Jesus saw Peter as who he will become for his kingdom.
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18
When Peter declared his faith and revealed the identity of his Master, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Mt. 16:16), Jesus, in turn, revealed Peter’s identity as the rock on which our Church is built. The gates of Hades, as Jesus prophesied, will not prevail against it. Indeed, we see this prophecy taking place before our eyes as the apostolic succession continued for 2,000 years within our Church, beginning with Peter as our first Pope. Despite the several falls and conversions Peter had during his apostleship, and all the unsophisticated speeches he made in between, we will learn one very important thing in Peter’s life: Jesus meets us where we are and “where we are” isn’t an obstacle for Jesus to set us on the path towards a more valuable mission.
Who is Paul?
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. – Acts 9:4-5
Paul, initially known as Saul, was a Pharisee and a persecutor of Christians. He attacked Christians in the same way a lion devours its prey. But God intervened in his life. Jesus appeared to him and tamed the lion in Paul. It was a powerful conversion that took him from being a murderer into a preacher and a miracle worker almost in an instant. It says, “Immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All who heard him were amazed…” Acts 9:20-21. Immediately, Paul made an impression.
“Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.” – Acts 13:46
Paul was a very outspoken man. He made eloquent speeches about his own conversion story, on the history of our faith, on the divisions in the Church, on morality, on marriage, and on other questions about the Christian doctrine. It shows how Paul was deeply involved in the lives of the people and his great passion in leading them in the right way. He made several journeys and made a compassionate rebuke against those who oppose the teachings of Christ. At the same time, he never denied his gratitude and encouragement from those who remained steadfast in their faith.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7
Paul, within the course of his missionary work, endured several threats, attacks, persecution and imprisonment. He endured lashings, beating with a rod, stoning, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold, nakedness, dangerous journeys, shipwreck, danger from bandits, danger from gentiles and danger from false brothers and sisters. All these he endured while he was under the daily pressure because of his anxiety for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:16-30). In the life of Paul, we will see how pivotal God’s mercy is in setting us on a path to a new life, a new walk, following Christ as the perfecter of our faith.
What makes Saintly Leadership?
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. – Hebrews 13:7
A pillar is never without some cracks, and yet it stands because of what puts it all together. If we remember the good works Peter and Paul did, it’s only because of the great work Christ has done in their lives. Their fidelity to Jesus’ teachings and obedience to the promptings of Holy Spirit led Peter and Paul as they ministered to the early Christians through a leadership that is apostolic, charismatic, and Eucharistic. They led the Church during one of the darkest moments in our history and kept the torch of Jesus’ teachings burning in the hearts of the early Christians. In the end, they sacrificed their own lives —Peter was crucified upside down, Paul was beheaded— and their martyrdom became a rich seedbed for the Christian faith. The faith that was spread all throughout the world began in what Peter and Paul planted in Rome.
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:16
Our will, emotion and intellect should work together as we grow in our faith. It’s a kind of growth that points us to return to the ‘likeness and image’ of the One whom we follow. It’s a kind of growth that urges us to imitate Christ —His virtues, His mission, His passion. Like Sts. Peter and Paul who loved Christ to the end, we also keep a steadfast love and faith in Christ knowing that as we share in His suffering, we will one day be welcomed to enter into His joy.