Saints Peter and Paul, Witnesses to the Gospel
Tuesday June 29, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
Reading I (Acts 12:1-11) Reading II (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18)
Gospel (St. Matthew 16:13-19)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about Our Lord asking His disciples about who people say that He is. When Peter is able to respond with the fullness of truth, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God, not only does Jesus bless him and found His Church upon him, but it also sets up (not only for Peter, but for the other apostles) the entire understanding of what it was that they were going to have to do. That is to say, if one truly believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God then that means we are going to have to be completely united with Him in everything that He is about. And so we see in both Peter and Paul that they spent their lives doing exactly what Jesus did. They went out and they preached the Gospel. Both of them met with a martyr’s death; both of them have been glorified in Heaven for eternity.
Now we see some of the extraordinary things that took place like the angel coming down and freeing Peter from prison. We know the various miracles that happened with Saint Paul and the different things that occurred. Yet, at the same time, we have to be able to look and see how even though these extraordinary things happened, they also, through these same things, were sharing in the Lord’s Passion. Peter was thrown into prison and he was kept there in chains with sixteen soldiers all around, and he was there for days. It is not like he was arrested and the Lord freed him immediately, but rather he was thrown into this prison where he had to sit through the entire time of the Passover and was not released until the very night before he was supposed to go on trial. Saint Paul says, in the reading that we heard from the Second Letter to Timothy, that his life has been poured out like a libation. There is not anything left; he has emptied the jar. If we look at what he says about himself when he writes to the Corinthians, he talks about how he has been whipped and beaten and stoned and shipwrecked and so on. They did not live easy lives. They shared in the Lord’s Passion. They suffered for what it was that they believed. And it is precisely for this reason that Saint Paul, now at the end of his life, is able to say, All that awaits me now is the crown of righteousness. He knew that the Lord, the just Judge, would give that to him, but he says, Not only to me, but all who have hoped in Him.
So for us, then, that question comes right back. Who do you say that I am? If we want to be like a lot of people who claim that they believe in Jesus, we are going to say, “You’re the Savior,” meaning, “You’re going to save me from all suffering.” It does not make sense considering the suffering He endured. Some might say, “Well, because I believe that You are the Son of God, You are going to give me everything that I want. I can be rich, and I don’t have to worry about any problems because I believe in Jesus.” It does not work that way either. All we need to do is look at the lives of the apostles; every last one of them except Saint John was martyred, and they tried a few times with him and it did not work so they finally just threw him out on Patmos until he died. So it is not going to be an easy life if we are going to follow Christ.
If we are really going to make that act of faith in Who He is then we have to understand that we have been incorporated into Him, He is going to live His life through us, and therefore we are going to be the ones today who bring the Gospel out to others. Not necessarily in the missionary way that Saints Peter and Paul did, as well as the other apostles, but each one of us is a missionary in our own right. We have to bring Christ into the workplace. We have to bring Him into the neighborhoods. We have to bring Him into our day-to-day lives. We are going to be persecuted for it, and we all know that. We need to learn to praise God for that. Remember the apostles when they were arrested and whipped; they rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer on behalf of the Name. They did not complain – “I thought if I believed in You that I wouldn’t have to suffer!” – just the opposite: They rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer!
And if we are going to truly believe in Christ, the way that this world is going – thanks be to God!– we might be martyred. What a gift if that were the case! Our Holy Father has made that very clear as well: There is going to be a new springtime and this will not happen without the blood of martyrs, he says. He knows what is coming. We would be fools if we tried to ignore the mess the world is in and think that we can be good Catholics in this world and not suffer for it. So the time is upon us to live our faith, and by simply living it we are going to evangelize, by speaking to others about Christ and bringing Him into the world, and by being willing in our own lives to share in the Cross of Christ. As Saint Paul says to Timothy: to share in the burden which the Gospel entails. All of us have that upon us, and all of us need to be able to see that this is a gift. It is not something to be shunned or run away from. It is something to be able to recognize that if we have been found worthy to share in the Passion of Christ there is no greater gift anywhere because the only thing greater is what lies on the other side, the merited crown of righteousness that awaits those who have suffered with Christ, who have put their faith into practice, who have lived a life of hope, and who now in love for God await the fullness of life. That is what the apostles did, that is what is held out for each one of us, but the first thing that needs to be answered is the simple question – Who do you say that I am? – because the way you answer that question is going to set the tone for the rest of your life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.