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 email@example.com.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.