Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sermon: Patronal Feast of St. Peter

He said, “I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line…” Is this from an article in the NY Times…about politics, about religion, about both? No. It was from last week’s reading from Galatians, well Paul writes that he confronted Cephas (that is Peter) over his exclusivity, as Paul was committed to bringing the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles.

There were many times that Peter and Paul did not agree and we are reminded that even in the early Church, there were arguments, difference of opinions, there were even factions vying for support of the Church. And yet they each carried the mission of that early church forward because of their commitment to Christ… and we remember them on the same feast day as we observe the tradition that they both died as martyrs in Rome during the persecution under Nero, in 64.

They are in some ways the odd couple. Paul was a well-educated and well traveled Jew of the Dispersion, and Peter was an uneducated fisherman from Galilee. No wonder they had differences of opinion in the early years of the Church concerning the mission to the Gentiles. But Peter and Paul were dedicated to proclaiming and spreading the Good News and their mission is now our mission.

So what might be said to us today regarding their lives? I think of some words written nearly 1700 years ago about Saints Peter and Paul that can help us put it all in perspective. Here are the words from a sermon by Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, in the year 430.

This day has been made holy by the passion of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. We are, therefore, not talking about some obscure martyrs. For as Scripture says, “Their voice has gone forth to all the world, and their message to the ends of the earth.” These martyrs realized what they taught: they pursued justice, they confessed the truth, and they died for it.

Saint Peter, the foremost of the apostles and a fervent lover of Christ, heard his merits acknowledged when the Lord addressed him: “I say to you that you are Peter.” For Peter had himself said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Then Jesus said: “And I say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church." He meant that "Upon this rock I will build the faith that you now confess, for you have said to me, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Therefore, I will build my Church on you, for you are Peter." The name Peter comes from petra, the word for rock, just as the word Christian comes from Christ.

As you are aware, Jesus chose his disciples before his passion and called them apostles; and among these in a virtually unique way then, Peter can be said to represent the entire Church. And because of the role which he alone had, he merited to hear the words: "To you I shall give the keys of the kingdom of heaven." It was not an individual who received those keys, but the entire Church considered as one. Now insofar represented the unity and universality of the Church, Peter's preeminence is clear from the words: "To you I give," for what was given was given to all. But it is clear that it was the Church that received the keys of the kingdom of God from what the Lord says elsewhere to all the apostles after his resurrection: "Receive the Holy Spirit," adding immediately, "whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you retain, they are retained."

It was logical, therefore, that the Lord after his resurrection should entrust Peter with the care of his sheep. He was not the only disciple who was worthy of this responsibility, but in speaking only to this one man, we should understand that Christ was speaking to all. Peter was addressed because he was foremost among the apostles. Therefore do not be disheartened, Peter; answer once, twice, yes three times. This threefold confession of love is necessary to recover what you lost three times by your fear. Untie by love the knot that you tied about yourself through fear.

Paul emerges out of Saul, the lamb out of the wolf; at first enemy, he becomes an apostle; at first a persecutor, he becomes the preacher. The Lord showed him the things that he too had to suffer for his name: chains, beatings, imprisonment, shipwrecks. The Lord sustained Paul in his sufferings, and brought him to this day.

Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one, even though they were martyred on different days. Peter went ahead, Paul followed. Let our way, then, be made straight in the Lord. It is a narrow, stony, hard road we tread; and yet with so many gone before us, we shall find the way smoother. The Lord himself trod this way, the unshakeable apostles and the holy martyrs likewise. So let us celebrate this feast day made holy by the blood of these two apostles. Let us embrace their faith, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their teaching.

To follow the example of Paul & Peter in the words of Augustine is to untie by love the knot that we tied about ourselves through fear. That love is given to us by God in Jesus Christ and we need not fear… So on this day as we remember our patron Peter, let us remember that Jesus asked him to feed his sheep, and we too follow that example, knowing that we like Peter may fail once, twice, even three times but Jesus will still ask us, “Do you love me?” And we like Peter will show our love by how we feed and love his sheep. Amen.

No comments: