Thursday, June 28, 2007

Feast of St Peter and St Paul

The Pillars of the Church

How many books have been written about each of these two men, their personality, their work, their"theology"; how many more remain to be written! He who would meditate on each one separately has only to take his Missal, his Breviary, the Gospels, and the Acts. In this Feast we think of them together. The Church puts the accent on Peter today, on Paul tomorrow. We will think of them as the two pillars of the Church, who gave their lives for Christ on the same day.
"These are the men who, living in the flesh, have planted the Church in their blood; They have drunk the Lord's Chalice and are become the friends of God. Their utterance fills every land. Their message reaches the ends of the earth." (
In the Gospel, Peter appears as the disciple; in the Acts, as the chief Shepherd, the unflinching leader of God's people. In the first, he is a child, very dear to Christ, to whose love he responded so naturally and so generously that we barely notice its growth. We can guess how rich in fruit these three years were, when we hear Christ ask him: "Simon, son of John, dost thou care for me more than these others?" Three times he puts the question, and after the third answer adds, "Feed my sheep," and, twice over, "Follow me."
John remains as he was. Whose love was greater? There is no absolute measure. We are inclined to put John first; Peter had perhaps something known to the Father who sees in secret. We can never judge each other; we do not know how the individual reacts to grace; God alone is the judge of what is hidden in the heart of man. in the Acts, we find beside Peter, already matured by God and full of the Holy Ghost, Paul. The grace of God had struck him down and Ananias had been sent to him that he too might be filled with the Holy Ghost. From now on, each in the sphere allotted to him by God, Peter and Paul will work together. God's Providence will bring them to Rome at the same hour, that they may also die together. We may truly say that the fruit borne by the Apostles is universal, as is that of the Church founded by Christ, his divine Bride, animated by his Spirit, one with her Head, the Bridegroom. She is the Virgin Mother, who in time prepares herself by a purity which ever increases, and who in the timelessness in which she celebrates her espousal with the Lamb is become immaculate. None is so much a mother as she. Her motherhood passes all description. Her love, her greatness of heart, her prudence and wisdom, her confidence and her courage, the force by which she protects whatever has been confided to her, are the astonishment of all those who reflect seriously. She is infinitely dear to us by his lovableness, Paul by his greatness. Were they, psychologically speaking, opposite poles? From the beginning, the Church gave proof of a broadmindedness which some onlookers take for difference of opinion. Peter was the head of the organization, Paul the animator present everywhere, the thirteenth and yet the first of the Apostles . O Felix Roma! O happy Rome! When she was at the height of her power and wore the crown of empire, she sowed the good seed in one distant province after another. When, under Tiberius, the ripened seed died, her invincible divine life manifested itself, informing the fruits of her death with the power of the resurrection. In the meantime, under Nero the first signs of the decadence of the Empire had appeared. The seed, bearing the germ of a new civilization, was scattered abroad; even decadence becomes important, thanks to the life-giving power of the germ. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."
Rome has the good fortune to receive into her sanctified soil the bodies of the two great pillars of the Church. Peter and Paul, by their martyrdom, planted the germ of that unbelievable harvest which, by the blessing of God, in two hundred and fifty years was to spring up all over the empire and produce an incomparable culture. O Felix Roma! Your grandeur was the fertile soil on which grew and flourished the Christian race. Your sense of order and organization gave the young Church a firm foundation. O Felix Roma! - who knew the time of your salvation! You are still the new Jerusalem! The heart of the Church beats within your walls, and in your bosom rest the bodies of God's best-beloved sons. "The capital of the world rests on the two pillars of the Church; all those who envy her crown gnaw at her heart, to find that they are biting upon a diamond." (Vondel.).

Today's picture is by Albrecht Durer "Four holy men". St Peter of course holds keys, St Paul is depicted as a bolding and bearded man holding an open book. The image is from