On June 29th, the Church celebrates the Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul. This feast day is very meaningful to me. You see, last year, I was in Medjugorje on June 29th and was to attend the all English Mass that day at Saint James Church located in the heart of the town. Well, I was asked by the celebrant to read one of the readings at Mass. The Church was packed for the service. To say that I was excited was putting it mildly. So, let’s see what we can find out about these two icons of the Church.
Well of course Saint Peter was one of the original twelve apostles but before that he was a fisherman in the Sea of Galilee. Jesus told Peter that He would make him a “fisher of men” instead. In reading the accounts in the Gospels, Peter was not always the one that most of us might have expected to lead. From the Bible stories, Peter seemed a bit high spirited, a little too “hot under the collar” and rather argumentative at times. However, Jesus molded him and despite some rough edges and early denials, surely demonstrated those leadership qualities that Jesus saw in him. Peter was designated as “the rock” upon which Jesus would build His Church and Peter was given the “keys” to the kingdom, thereby naming him the first head of the Church.
Paul, actually named Saul, was a Roman citizen and came along after Jesus was crucified. Saul made it his mission to lead soldiers through the villages searching for Christians to persecute. In those early years, families of Christians were trying to band together to worship the Lord, to follow His teachings and to share the good news of the Last Supper with those who were baptized and believed. One day, while traveling to Damascus to persecute some Christians, Saul was struck down and blinded. In a vision, Saul was confronted by Christ. That encounter caused a total transformation in Saul. He was later baptized, regained his eyesight and changed his name to Paul. This transformation was so dramatic that he later became one of the other significant “rocks” of the early Church. Paul’s teachings to the Gentiles (non-Jews) probably did more to spread the good news of Christ than any other single thing in the early days of the Church. Paul’s writings to the Gentiles form the bulk of the New Testament works after the Gospel writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Peter and Paul both preached to the Gentiles and worked together on occasion. Peter is frequently referred to as Cephas in the letters of Paul. Peter is considered the first Pope of the Catholic Church, while Paul is considered by many to have helped define Christianity for the Gentile community.
This feast day honors the martyrdom of the two saints sometime between AD 64 and 67. Peter was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die as Jesus. Paul on the other hand was a Roman citizen so he could choose beheading instead and is believed to have died that way. While the church recognizes that they may not have died on the same day, tradition says that this is the day that they were both martyred in Rome by Emperor Nero.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us!