Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, apostles
Sts. Peter and Paul are the co-founders of the Church – the solid rock on which it was founded.
Peter’s original name was Simon. He was a fisherman and the brother of Saint Andrew, the apostle who led him to Christ. As an apostle of Christ, Simon was renamed “Peter” (in Hebrew Kephas) or “rock” by Jesus to indicate that Peter would be the rock-like foundation on which the Church would be built.
Peter’s house often became the scene of miracles, since Jesus would stay there whenever He was teaching in that locality. Together with his brothers John and Andrew, Peter belonged to the first of Jesus’ disciples.
After the Ascension, Peter took the leading role that Christ had assigned to him and became the first Pope. He served as the first Bishop of Rome and died there as a martyr in 64 a.d. crucified with his head downward, as he was not worthy to die in the same manner as Christ.
Peter is the author of two letters, the first encyclicals. St. Peter is buried beneath the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica on the Vatican Hill in Rome. A visitor to the Vatican Basilica can go into the crypt, which is the floor of the original church built by the Emperor Constantine.
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Paul, known as Saul (his Roman name) before his conversion, was the son of Jewish parents who belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, was raised as a Pharisee. A tent-maker by trade, Saul hated and persecuted Christians as heretics and even participated in the stoning of Stephen the martyr.
On his way to Damascus to persecute another group of Christians, Saul was knocked to the ground and struck by a heavenly light, when God gave him the message that in persecuting Christians, he was also persecuting Christ Himself. This profound experience led to his conversion to Christianity. He was baptized, changed his name to Paul, and became traveling and preaching. He met Peter in Jerusalem and was introduced to the Christian Community by Barnabus.
Paul was eventually seized by the Jews and accused of condemning the Law. After being held as a prisoner for two years at Caesarea, he appealed to Caesar and was sent by sea to Rome (60 A.D.). Shipwrecked and delayed on the island of Malta, he arrived at Rome in the spring of 61 and passed the next two years in confinement before being released.The last years of the saint’s life were devoted to missionary work. In 66 he returned to Rome, was taken prisoner, and beheaded a year later. His fourteen letters are a precious legacy.
We learn through the selection of these men to lead the Church, Christ teaches us that he chooses ordinary men and women to do his work and to be His leaders. Peter was a simple fisherman whom he chose in an official way, while Paul was a tent maker chosen in a very unconventional manner. Both men were imperfect – Peter denied Jesus three times; Saul persecuted Christians before his conversion. Neither of the men were trained in their work for the Lord, but the Lord provided them with all the graces necessary to spread the Good News. Christ works in a powerful way through weak, imperfect people, if we come to him with humble hearts and surrender to His will. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12, 10)
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