Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
By Jean M. Heimann
June 29 is the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, who are the co-founders of the Catholic Church. Both were martyrs for the faith.
“Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.” — St. Augustine of Hippo
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.
Prayer to St. Peter
O Glorious St. Peter, because of your vibrant and generous faith, sincere humility and flaming love our Lord honored you with singular privileges and especially leadership of the whole Church. Obtain for us the grace of a living faith, a sincere loyalty to the Church, acceptance of all her teachings, and obedience to all her precepts. Let us thus enjoy an undisturbed peace on earth and everlasting happiness in heaven.
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 Barnabas.
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 God 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)
Prayer to the Apostle Paul
Glorious St Paul,
Most Zealous Apostle,
Martyr for the Love of Christ,
give us a deep faith,
a steadfast hope,
a burning love for our Lord
so that we can proclaim with you
‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’
Help us to become apostles
serving the Church with a pure heart
witnesses to her truth and beauty
amidst the darkness of our days.
With you we praise God our Father
‘To Him be the glory, in the Church and in Christ
Now and for ever’.