Fr Richard's words for the Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul
A very happy Solemnity - particularly to the parishioners of Ss Peter and Paul, Leyburn, on this our patronal Feast!
Our attention today naturally turns to the Eternal City. A pilgrimage to Rome – which it will soon be possible to make again I understand (!) – is for the purpose of visiting the tombs of the apostles, especially those we celebrate today. Both of them won the crown of martyrdom in Rome. They are the rock upon which the Church of Jesus Christ is built.
The collect for today’s Mass makes a very clear statement: that the Church received the beginnings of “right religion” through the teaching of Peter and Paul. This is a day indeed to rejoice in the gift of our Catholic Faith because we know and testify that we follow the one true Faith handed on by the apostles. This isn’t to be triumphalist. Nor is it at all to disrespect those who follow other professions of faith. On the contrary, we have a profound respect for them and we acknowledge “all goodness and truth found in these religions as ‘a preparation for the Gospel’.” [Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 16] But we hold firmly that the ‘one true religion’ “subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church” [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2105]. The Church, founded by Jesus Christ Himself, is the way by which we can enter life eternal. It’s the Church, founded by Jesus Christ Himself, which shows us how to give the adoration that man owes to God.
Saints Peter and Paul lay the foundation stones for practising this “right religion” by the ‘offices’ they hold, and also by their saintly examples.
In the Gospel, Jesus gives Saint Peter the authority to teach in His name in union with the other apostles. This authority is handed on through the centuries to the popes in union with the bishops, right through to the present day. The ‘Magisterium’ safeguards the Church because it’s the guarantee that the Bride of Christ remains true to her Bridegroom. By this authority, the Church is able to hold fast to the teachings of Christ through the choppy waters of human existence. The authority to “bind and loose” is given to Peter who stands for the whole universal Church. It refers to the office of the priesthood by which the Sacraments are celebrated and, by them, the grace of God that flows to the members of Christ’s Body.
Saint Paul shares in this ministerial priesthood of Jesus Christ. He brings baptism, the Eucharist, and repentance to the Gentiles. He is the “outstanding preacher” as today’s Preface describes him. He is also the greatest evangeliser the Church has ever known, zealously bringing the message of salvation to many peoples. He left fourteen epistles, which the Butler’s Lives of Saints describes as the “fountainhead of the Church’s doctrine, the consolation and delight of her greatest saints.”
In his holiness, St Peter shows us how to be bold in professing Jesus as the Christ, no matter how hostile those listening may be. As demonstrated in today’s First Reading, he shows how by trusting in divine power, Christ can free us from oppression. He reminds us how even the greatest of disciples are weak and fragile, but become saints because they cling to Our Lord’s feet and depend constantly on His mercy.
St Paul’s life testifies that even the greatest persecutors of the true Faith can undergo conversion. As in today’s Second Reading, he encourages us to persevere and hold fast to the Faith we have been gifted. St Paul schools us in virtuous living and exhorts us to “to run the race to the finish”, to follow the path that leads us to eternal life.
By their glorious martyrdoms in the Eternal City, Ss Peter and Paul provide an enduring witness of faith to Christians throughout all time.
And so today we rejoice. We give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of these two Apostles who give us the one foundation stone upon which to worship God and to build our relationship with Him, in communion with our brothers and sisters.