June 29 is the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul. Between them they established the Holy See in Rome, we have our first Pope in Peter who was given the keys of the kingdom, and because of the zealous work of Paul the Church spread to the gentiles.
There are many theological treasures to be gleaned from these two great men of faith. What they taught and what they wrote of our Lord has set the Church on a very firm foundation, and the treasure they bequeathed us in the deposit of faith is still being mined today.
When I think of these two men together, I am struck by a few details they have in common:
Though they were given large and serious tasks to fulfill, neither was perfect, and in fact had a resume that would have called into question their suitability. Both men denied Christ. Both men received a new name after having an encounter with Christ and receiving their mission. Both endured persecution and suffered martyrdom. Both were transformed.
Both men offer very reassuring examples of the mercy of God, and God’s desire to reach out to us, provide for us, and draw us to Himself. The story of the little fishing boat being tossed on the waves is one of my favourites in the New Testament. The disciples were unsettled by the conditions, and saw Jesus approaching them, walking on the water. Peter called out to Him, “Lord, if that is You, command me to come to You.” Jesus did, and Peter got out of the boat and walked on water toward Him, but grew frightened (lack of faith!) and began to sink – whereupon he was saved by Jesus, settled safely into the boat, and the storm was quelled. I love Peter’s impulsive nature, his enthusiasm, his desire to go all out. I love that he was willing to risk everything and fail, in order to be with Jesus. And then we have the tender care of Christ, looking after His flock in their moments of need.
Paul, on the other hand, started out just as enthusiastic and committed as Peter, only his devotion was to persecuting Christians, whom he believed to be utterly and completely deceived. He was renowned throughout the new community of believers for it. (One translation says he ‘breathed out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples”.) He was on his way to Damascus to round up any followers of Christ he might find there, but on the way was struck down off his horse by a bright light and blinded. Jesus spoke to him, instructing him where to go and whom to seek in the city and having obeyed, his vision restored and he was baptised. He was as fervent winning new souls to Christ after his conversion as he had been in persecuting them before.
“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)
Two very different encounters, two different missions, with different skills, yet fundamental to both is love of Christ and wholehearted desire to serve Him.