St. Peter and St. Paul

Friends in Christ, today is the Feast of the two great pillars of the church: St. Peter and St. Paul. St. Peter, the first Pope, was given the keys of heaven by Jesus. St. Paul was the greatest missionary the Church has ever known. Both achieved the greatest honor a Christian can have: They gave their lives as martyrs for Jesus Christ.
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If you go to Rome someday, you should visit ‘The Church of St Paul at the 3 Fountains.’ It was on that spot that St. Paul was martyred. His head was cut off, and as legend says, when his head was severed, it bounced and struck the earth in three different places, from which fountains sprang up. These fountains still flow today.
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If you go over to the Roman Basilica of St. Peter, under the high altar is the crypt where lie the bones of St. Peter. Jesus had foretold that Peter would be crucified, and in fact he was. But when the time came, he felt so unworthy to die like Christ, that they crucified him upside down.
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But these saints suffered greatly even before they were martyred. St. Paul tells of how he was one time scourged, other times beaten with rods, even stoned – And Peter suffered too. For example, we read today of the persecution by King Herod. When they wanted to go after the Church, they struck at the head of the Church, and that was St. Peter. Of the first 30-some Popes, nearly all were martyred. So Peter was arrested and thrown in prison. The whole church then did what we would do if the Pope were in prison; they began praying. As it says: ‘Prayer to God was made without ceasing by the Church for him.’
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So, there he was, chained up in this dark and gloomy prison. ‘What am I going to do, he thought? In that jail there were four guards guarding him, it seemed hopeless. But in the middle of the night, a bright light flashed in the cell, and an angel appeared. ‘Peter, wake up, put on your sandals, and let’s go!’ The chains fell off of his hands. But what about the guards? Well, they walked right past the guards. It suppose the angel put them to sleep. Now Peter wondered if he was dreaming because it says: ‘He followed him out, not knowing that what was being done by the angel was real.’ They passed through the first guard and the 2nd until they came to the iron gates that protect the city. Now what? At nighttime, the gates are locked. But what is this? The gates opened by themselves! And after going down one street, the angel disappeared. Then Peter thought, its really true! An angel has freed me! All of this is explained in the Acts of the Apostles.
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So, on the run, Peter goes to the house where St. Mark lived, for a place to stay. Now the people in there were praying so hard for Peter to be released from jail: ‘Please Lord, let Peter be freed, please Lord let Peter be freed. And then? !KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK! A young girl named Rhoda[i] goes to the door. She looks through the peep-hole – its Peter! But she was so excited that she forgot to open the door! Rhoda then runs in to tell the others – its Peter outside! He’s here! You’re crazy! They said. It must be his angel! (This is, by the way, an example of belief in guardian angels so clearly shown in Sacred Scripture).
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So they kept praying – ‘please Lord, let Peter be freed from prison, please Lord let Peter be freed from prison.’ But Rhoda insisted that it is Peter knocking, and that they should let him in. !KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK! Disregarding what everyone says, Rhoda will not give up on Peter. She goes and opens the door and brings in Peter and they are amazed! So he waves his hand for them to be quiet, and tells them how the angel had freed him from prison.
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Friends, Peter went through a great deal of anguish in those years, and as we said, so did St. Paul. You can’t just be a martyr after an unvirtuous life of leisure! As the Apostles lived their Life in Christ, being faithful in numerous difficulties, they were really training for the greatest honor: martyrdom.
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You may have been following in the news that 27 year-old woman[ii] in Sudan who was sentenced to death for her Christian Faith. She was ordered to give up Christ, and become Muslim – ‘No,’ was her answer. Yes, she was happily married. Yes, she had a child. But she was determined to die rather than renounce her faith. Are we? Are we prepared to be another St. Paul and lose our head rather than our Faith? Or a St. Peter? Our Faith in Christ must mean more than our life, because we owe everything to Jesus Christ. We must be able to say what St. Peter said: I know and believe, that ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’
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I think everyone here can all say ‘Yes,’ without hesitation – that we would each give our life rather than ever deny Jesus. But we can test ourselves to see if we would really do it. We just have to ask a few questions: Are we faithful to the Lord in small things? When friends or colleagues criticize the Catholic Faith, do we speak up? Can’t be a martyr if we won’t even do that.
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The martyrs gave their lives for Christ, yet today, many throw away their Faith for the most pathetic things: – in order to remarry outside the Church, many walk away – because their friends are in another religion, they go too – they want to live at their boyfriend’s apartment, so they walk away from God. Pathetic reasons.
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We have to make choices, to do what is right or to walk away from Christ. Do we tell the truth when under pressure to lie? Do we cheat when there is an advantage? God permits us many opportunities to show him our loyalty, but we aren’t worthy to be a martyr unless we can be faithful in small things.
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In the spiritual warfare that is part of life, we do have our Angel to help us like St. Peter did; and if we are on the run, we can always knock at the door of the house of Mary, who will always open to us. May the Blessed Virgin help us in our daily life to be worthy of the promises of Christ.

 

[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Mary, niece of Abraham]

 

[i] The name Rhoda means ‘Rose,’ and it is also interesting that the house he went to was the house of Mary, the mother of Mark.

[ii] Meriam Yehya Ibrahim

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