Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Acts 12:1-11; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
At these words of Peter, an invisible bolt of lightning struck the stage of the world drama and lit it from end to end. The freedom of the omniscient writer and the freedom of the created character in the Story connected in an instant of pure grace.
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”
Insight into the divine mysteries beyond sight and sound in a single human mind is a world-changing event more cataclysmic than a tsunami or a pandemic.
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Recognition of Jesus’ personal identity as the Son of God was like scales falling out of the eyes of Adam. Peter’s profession of faith would be the first match to light the rest of darkened humanity one person at a time.
Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” is addressed very personally. Faith is not secondhand—what “people say”—but direct experience in the light of grace.
As the Church grew by the apostolic preaching of Peter and Paul, religion may have become secondhand for some as evidenced by Paul’s strange question to the Romans: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) Lacking firsthand knowledge by an experience of grace, some were perhaps simply following religious routine. Paul was amazed that some Christians thought it was possible “to continue in sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). There was barely a discernible change in life or outlook before and after conversion in some followers.
Secondhand religion is like hearing someone else’s testimony that water is cool and refreshing. Firsthand experience is tasting and knowing for oneself that it is cool and refreshing.
Getting to know Christ Jesus is a continual journey in metanoia; spiritual eyes open slowly and gradually. Matthew records that Peter stumbled shortly after his proclamation of faith by refusing to permit Jesus’ passion: “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus commanded sternly (Matthew 16:23). The triple denial and reinstatement of the “rock” as the drama unfolded show how much initial faith needed to mature.
Peter and Paul gained firsthand knowledge of Christ by sharing in his passion—Peter in prison chains, and Paul as he was “being poured out like a libation.” Both also experienced firsthand the deep peace of Christ in the midst of adversity. After Peter’s dreamlike rescue by an angel he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me…” Likewise, Paul testified, “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.”
The psalmist invites us to join Saints Peter and Paul and “Taste and see how good the Lord is; blessed the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).