On Tuesday, June 29, we celebrate the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul. Each of these saints has their own feast day, as well: The Chair of Peter on February 22, Saint Peter in Chains on August 1, and the Conversion of Saint Paul on January 25. Though they only met a handful of times, we celebrate them together because they represent the spread of the faith and development of the Church in the time immediately after Christ’s Ascension. Recognizing the importance of Ss. Peter and Paul is not meant to diminish the importance or work of the other apostles and early Christians, but even the Bible recognizes the importance of these two apostles, “the Gospel to the uncircumcised was entrusted to me, just as the Gospel to the circumcised was entrusted to Peter” (Gal 2:7).
St. Peter represents the hierarchy and structure of the Church, because the Lord gave St. Peter the keys to the kingdom (Mt. 16:19) and entrusted his sheep to him (Jn. 21:15-17). St. Peter gave the speak at the feast of Pentecost that resulted in 3,000 converts (Acts 1-2), and we see St. Peter taking the initiative in leading the Church in many circumstances. Although St. Paul says that St. Peter was entrusted with the Gospel to the circumcised (Israelites), we also know that St. Peter was the first one to bring Gentiles in the Church, starting with the family of Cornelius (Acts 10).
St. Paul was counted as one of the Apostles, even though he only became a follower of Christ after the Ascension. He is an Apostle, and not just a bishop like Timothy or a missionary like Apollos, because He had an encounter with the Lord Himself when He was struck blind by God (Acts 9). St. Paul, since the authorities in Jerusalem were now trying to arrest him, had to leave town, but He used the opportunity to begin spreading the Gospel everywhere he went, making converts and founding Churches in present day Turkey and Greece, and eventually ending up in Rome. He wrote letters to many of these Churches, which have become part of the New Testament of the Bible and continue to shed light on the teachings of Christ. Also, even though St. Paul, above, describes himself as the apostle to the gentiles, he would normally first preach in the synagogues in each new city he traveled to (Acts 13:46), and only then preach to the gentiles.
St. Peter’s primary responsibility was in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, where there were more Jews, and St. Paul’s was primarily outside of Israel, where there were more gentiles, they were not exclusive, and would bring any new converts into the Church. They also both wrote letters that ended up as part of the New Testament, and spoke of each other in their letters. They also both ended up in Rome, the heart of the Roman Empire that would become the center of Christian persecution for most of the next 300 years. St. Peter, like St. Paul, eventually left Jerusalem, made missionary journey’s, and spent the last part of his life in Rome, where he was martyred. St. Paul, likewise ended his journey’s in Rome, where both he and St. Peter ministered to the Christian community. According to St. Clement of Rome they were martyred in the persecutions of the Emperor Nero. As to the importance of the ministry and martyrdom of Ss. Peter and Paul at Rome I’ll give the last word to Tertullian, an ancient priest who died around 220 A.D., “If thou art near Italy, thou hast Rome where authority is ever within reach. How fortunate is this Church for which the Apostles have poured out their whole teaching with their blood, where Peter has emulated the Passion of the Lord, where Paul was crowned with the death of John” (De Praescriptione 36).
ANNOUNCEMENT: I’m starting a new series of pastor’s bulletin articles. In addition to the regular articles and “Fr. Bryan Recommends,” I’m adding a series of questions and answers. Once a month I’ll write an article answering a question from a parishioner on the Church, the Mass and sacraments, the Bible, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints, spiritual theology, or anything related to Christianity. Either write your question down and put it in the collection basket, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we learn about the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we celebrate this Tuesday, December 8:
Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: ‘The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin’ (CCC 491).
Original sin isn’t an actual sin that any of us committed; instead, original sin refers to the actual first sin of Adam and Eve, our first parents, who disobeyed God because, in their pride, they listened to the temptation of Satan, “No, you shall not die the death. For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.” The had already been created by God “to our image and likeness,” but they wanted to be like God without God, or to take God’s place in their own lives. The result of this original sin was the death of the life of God in their souls, what the Catechism calls “the grace of original holiness” (CCC 399).
As children of Adam and Eve we are born outside of grace and the friendship of God. However, the Son of God, who is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God,” came to restore us to grace and to the friendship and love of God, and He was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. The Church Fathers saw Jesus Christ as a new Adam, come to undo the disobedience of Adam through His own obedience to the Cross. In the same way, they saw the Blessed Virgin as a new Eve.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote, “And thus also it was that the know of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith” (Against Heresies 3, 22, 4).
Again, St. Aelred wrote, “Once we lay in death, as you know and believe, in sin, in darkness, in misery. In death, because we had lost the Lord; in sin, because of our corruption; in darkness, for we were without the light of wisdom, and thus had perished utterly. But then we were born, far better than through Eve, through Mary the blessed, because Christ was born of her. We have recovered new life in place of sin, immortality instead of mortality, light in place of darkness. She is our mother – the mother of our life, the mother of our incarnation, the mother of our light” (Sermon 20, in Nativitate beatae Mariae).
The Blessed Virgin was conceived without original sin because she was “full of grace” from the moment of her conception, because she was to carry in her womb the One who would be a blessing to the entire world.
Finally, as Saint Sophronius wrote “Enclosed within your womb in God himself. He makes his abode in you and comes forth from you like a bridegroom, winning joy for all and bestowing God’s light on all” (Oratio 2, in sanctissimae Deiparae Annuntiatione).
Ss. Perpetua and Felicity were from Carthage and were martyred with their companions in the year 203 AD, under the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus Augustus. St. Perpetua was only 22 years old when she was arrested. Her mother was Christian and her father pagan, but she decided to follow her mother and converted to Christianity. She was also a mother herself and had an infant son. She was arrested with 4 other catechumens, Ss. Felicity, Revocatus, Saturninus, and Secundulus, and their teacher Saturus. They were baptized before being taken to prison. St. Felicity was a slave, and was 8 months pregnant at the time of her arrest. She gave birth just days before her martyrdom, and her child, a girl, was adopted by one of the Christian women in Carthage.
Secundulus died in prison, but the others were eventually tried and, when they refused to deny their Christianity, were sentenced to die in the arena by being thrown to wild animals. Saturus, Revocatus, and Saturninus were thrown to bears, leopards, and wild boars. Perpetua and Felicity were thrown to a rabid heifer, but survived the attack. They were then taken into the center of the arena and exchanged the kiss of peace, as at Mass, before being executed.
After she converted her father tried to convince her to renounce her Christianity, and she recorded the conversation, “When my father in his affection for me was trying to turn me from my purpose by arguments and thus weaken my faith, I said to him, ‘Do you see this vessel—waterpot or whatever it may be? Can it be called by any other name than what it is?’ ‘No,’ he replied. ‘So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am—a Christian.’”
St. Felicity likewise showed incredible faith and courage in her imprisonment and martyrdom. When she went into labor in prison, the guards made fun of her, asking how she would stand the suffering in the arena if she couldn’t stand the pain of childbirth. She responded, “Now I’m the one who is suffering, but in the arena, another will be in me suffering for me because I will be suffering for him.”
We share with them the name of Christian; may we share their faith and love for God and their courage in professing it.
Today is the memorial of St. Mary Magdalen, who was one of the disciples of the Lord during His life and the first person to announce His Resurrection. Everything that we know about her for sure comes from the Bible. We know that she was a friend and follower of Jesus. In her love for Jesus, she anointed his feet with oil and washed them with her hair (John 12). We also know that Jesus exorcised 7 demons from her.
Aside from this, St. Mary Magdalen is one of the most controversial saints there is, not because of anything she did, but because of what has been said about her by others. First, many people are under the impression that St. Mary Magdalen was a prostitute before she became a follower of Jesus. This is probably because of a misinterpretation of the Bible, but there isn’t actually any evidence that she was a prostitute.
Second, there are 2 different cities that claim to have the remains of St. Mary Magdelen. The Greek Church claims that St. Mary Magdalen went with St. John and Mary the Mother of Jesus to Ephesus, where she lived until her death. Her body was moved to Constantinople (now called Istanbul) in 866. The French claim that she went with Lazarus and several others to Marseilles, France, where she became a hermit until her death. These remains were moved around several times and are now at La Sainte-Baume. It’s probably impossible to tell which story is true, but we do know that having the relics of a popular saint like Mary Magdalen brings in a lot of tourists and pilgrims, both in the Middle Ages and now, and can bring a lot of prestige and wealth to the city where they’re kept.
Finally, a line of French kings, called the Merovingian dynasty, which ruled France from about 450 to 750 A.D., claimed to be descended from Jesus Christ himself. They claimed that St. Mary Magdalen was Jesus’ wife and that she was pregnant when Jesus was crucified. They claim that she travelled to France after He ascended to heaven, and that they are descendants of that child. First, there is no evidence that this is anything other than a lie that they told to increase their own importance. Second, if this is true, then they’re claiming that Jesus is basically a deadbeat dad who abandoned his wife and child, which is clearly ridiculous. Finally, we know from the testimony and writings of the earliest Christians, people who actually knew Jesus personally, that Jesus was never married and practiced celibacy throughout His life. You may remember this idea from Dan Brown’s fictional novel, The Davinci Code, or the movie based on it.
Despite these controversies, St. Mary Magdalen herself can be a huge help to people spiritually. She’s the patron saint against sexual temptation, of drug stores and pharmacists, contemplatives, converts, women, people ridiculed for their piety, and of the diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah, among many others. She was one of the few followers of Jesus to remain faithful to Him even through His arrest, condemnation, and crucifixion. When most of the others ran away and hid, she stayed with Him, with St. John, the Virgin Mary, and several other women. May we have her courage and conviction of faith, even when we have to suffer false accusations.
Next Week: Fr. Bryan Recommends
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.