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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

The Glory of the Apostles: Sts. Peter and Paul

Fr. Scott Haynes


A Sermon on the Feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29



Today we commemorate two of the great New Testament heroes, St. Peter and St. Paul. Both these men were called to be missionaries.  St. Clement of Rome, who I believe was the second bishop of Rome after St Peter, was among the first to write about the joint role of St. Peter and St. Paul and about the fact that each suffered martyrdom. St. Irenaeus, writing in the second century, stated that the Church at Rome was “the greatest and most ancient Church, founded by the two glorious apostles, Peter and Paul.”

 


It was not only Popes and Bishops who revered these illustrious apostles. Archaeological investigations in the twentieth century revealed lots of inscriptions dating from about the year 250 A.D.—inscriptions like “Paul and Peter, make intercession for Victor” and “Peter and Paul, do not forget Antonius Bassus.”


Yet these great saints were real people with faults. They were not marble statues polished to perfection but were men of flesh and blood, who sometimes sinned. St. Peter who had been the most devoted follower of Christ, and who publicly recognized Jesus in the presence of all the other disciples, as the son of the living God, who said that he would follow Him to death—this same Peter denied Christ three times in one night.



According to the opinion of St. Augustine, our Lord permitted this, first, because St. Peter relied too much on his own strength: secondly, that Peter, whom Christ intended to be His Vicar on Earth, should learn to feel compassion when great sinners would come to him and ask forgiveness of their misdeeds.


From St. Peter’s fall we should learn the following lesson. Despise no one who has committed great wrong, especially if such a one has repented and is on the way to living a better life. Never reproach him with his crimes; but consider that in similar circumstances, you would have done the same thing or worse.


If you have not fallen like St. Peter—if you have never been a great sinner, give thanks to the Almighty for shielding you so graciously thus far, and take care that you do not fall. Secondly: never trust too implicitly in your own strength, for pride comes before the fall.


Notice that Jesus does not condemn St. Peter after these triple denials. No. Rather, Christ looked compassionately on him, reproaching him with his fault, and this brought about his contrition. St. Peter wept bitterly and went away from the place where he had sinned, and with his whole heart, repented of his misdeed. This repentance he continued while he lived, although he had the assurance that Christ had forgiven him.


Let this be an example of true penance to all of us. Once you realize your sin do not wallow in it like a pig in mud. Repent with your whole heart, and confess it, as soon as possible, to a priest, in the Sacrament of Confession. Then resolve firmly to avoid all near occasions of sin—stay away from people, places, and things that lead you into sin. But even when you have done all that was necessary to free you from your guilt, still, so long as life lasts, never cease to repent of the evil you committed. All true penitents act in this manner.


King David, in the Old Testament, was assured, by the mouth of the prophet, that his sins were forgiven; yet he repented of them daily. How often he asked God to forgive him may be seen in his Psalms:

“I will wash my bed, I will water my couch with my tears” (Ps. 6:6).

Because King David shed rivers of tears at the remembrance of his iniquities, St. John Chrysostom comments:

“In one night he committed sin, but he wept over it all other nights.”

A saint from the fourth century, St. James of Nisibis comments,

“Today, people pass many whole nights in sin, and think that a single hour’s weeping over them is sufficient.”

We must not act that way. Rather, we must adhere to the saintly examples of King David and St. Peter. We must not let a day pass without repenting of our sins and praying to God to forgive them.  St. James of Nisibis says,

“We must wash away, by continual tears, the iniquity of which we have even once been guilty.”


On this glorious feast day, let us also consider St. Paul.  Once St. Paul converted, he suffered for the true Faith even more intently than he had persecuted the Church. At one point many Christians were afraid for St. Paul to travel from Caesarea to Jerusalem, but neither tears nor prayers could detain him. St. Paul said:

“I, am ready not only to be bound in Jerusalem, but also to die for the name of Jesus.”

He proved his words by his deeds. When he arrived at Jerusalem, he immediately went into the Temple to pray, but hardly had the Jews seen him, when they dragged him out of the Temple and would certainly have killed him with their blows, had not the Tribune, Claudius Lysias, hastily appeared with his soldiers and released him from their fury. He, however, took him prisoner and sent him to Caesarea to the Governor Felix, who, although he found him innocent, kept him in prison. Festus, his successor, would have sent him back to Jerusalem that he might be judged there, but Paul appealed to the Emperor and was sent to Rome, where, after two years of imprisonment, he was set at liberty.


The Saint then began again his apostolic labors, travelled through Italy and France, ventured even to Spain, preaching the Gospel everywhere and converting a great number of people. At last, he returned to Rome, and among others, he exhorted some concubines of the godless Emperor Nero, to forsake their wicked life. Amazingly St. Paul was successful in this. Nero’s concubines, in response to the preaching of St. Paul, therefore, refused to submit to the tyrant’s depraved lust, and so, Nero gave orders to imprison St. Paul as well as St. Peter.



Somewhat later, both were condemned to die, St. Peter upon the Cross and St. Paul by the sword. St. John Chrysostom relates that the blood that flowed from the body of St. Paul when he was beheaded, was not red, but milk white. It is also said that his head, when severed from his body, sprang up three times from the ground, and that, each time, water gushed forth. To this day, three springs, which are shown at the place where his execution took place, confirm the tradition.



What you have read of St. Peter and St. Paul, should make you carefully consider the immeasurable goodness and mercy of God towards sinners. St. Peter had committed sin in denying the Savior three times. St. Paul had become guilty of great iniquity in persecuting the Church of Christ. Both did penance and both were again received into the favor of the Lord.

 

How does God treat us? He loves us like St. Peter and like St. Paul. There is nothing Jesus loves more than to forgive sins. That is the chief purpose of Christ’s mission as Messiah—Jesus saves!

 


In a sermon in the year 395 A.D., St. Augustine of Hippo said of St. Peter and St. Paul:

“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.”

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