A Reflection for the Octave of St. Peter & St. Paul

During the Octave of St. Peter and St. Paul

 

 

St. Paul’s letters are regularly addressed to the “saints” in whichever community he happens to be writing. For example, “To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints” Rom. 1:7. The Greek word used is hagiois, literally “holy ones”, and so the phrase could also be translated as “called to be holy”, yet that would not render it any less daunting a designation. The Apostle was not writing to the elite, fellow apostles, exemplary disciples; no, he was addressing all the Christians in that community, everyone who had been baptized into Jesus Christ and been born again of water and the Spirit. Their holiness – saintliness – was not the result of their personal accomplishments, but rather the effect of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we are just “earthen vessels”, but into these containers God has poured out the treasure of His glorious presence, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” 2 Cor.4:7 It is this Presence which works to transform us from the inside out. In fact, as we grow in holiness, the outer appearance becomes more and more transparent, revealing ever more clearly the treasure within: the indwelling Lord. We are fragile “earthen vessels”, formed of the dust of the earth, but He is the Holy One, whose presence makes us holy.

Traditionally, when telling the story of a saint’s life, it has been the pattern to portray not only strengths, accomplishments, and the wonders God has worked through that individual, but the human weaknesses as well. For example, what figure is more powerful and foundational for the Christian Church than St. Peter? Yet who is more deeply humbled in the very pages of Scripture than he, who denied his Lord and was once rebuked as “satan”? – “You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Lk. 22:56-62, Mt.16:13-23, and parallels)

Now, we may argue that Simon Peter was indeed one who stumbled through such bold outbursts and self-preserving denials, etc., before the day of Pentecost, but, transformed on that momentous occasion, became thereafter a powerful and confident leader. However, the records show us that even the Spirit-filled apostle required some strong persuasion to open his arms to the Gentile converts (Acts 10), and, even thereafter, he shrank from being seen by his fellow Jews eating with them (Gal.2:11-14). Then, there is the tradition of his martyrdom.

They say that Peter saw it coming: the web tightening around him in Rome, under the persecution perpetrated by Emperor Nero. He determined to flee for his life. Stealthily he slipped away but, as he sped towards his imagined liberty, he encountered Jesus, heading the other way, back into the city. “Where are you going (“Quo Vadis?” in the original Latin), Lord?” asked the fisherman. “I am going to Rome to be crucified in your place.” came the reply. Humbled once more, Simon Peter turned and headed back to face certain death in witness to the Gospel.

They say that, when the time of execution came, the soldiers would have crucified him just as Jesus had died before him. “No,” he protested, “I am not worthy.”; and so, the tradition goes, Simon the “Rock” was crucified upside down.

In spite of his unworthiness, stumbling and failings, this fisherman, apostle, and friend of Jesus shone, and continues to shine, as one of the brightest of lights bearing witness to the Gospel. We, too, are saints, not because we are strong, good or holy enough in ourselves, but because we are the Lord’s, made holy by His treasure within.

“… to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours… ” I Cor.1:2
 

 

Published in: on July 4, 2008 at 3:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

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