In the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, two of the most influential men in Christianity. Peter, the rock on which Christ built His Church and Paul, the converted persecutor of Christians turned missionary. As Christians, we can look at the lives and deaths of these great men as a model of how we are to live and possibly die for Christ.
Let us look at each of these men individually.
Peter, known originally as Simon, was the brother of Andrew. Both fishermen by trade, they later became “fishers of men.” Andrew, having discovered Jesus as the Messiah through John the Baptist, ran home to tell his brother Simon of the good news. Simon meets Jesus who instructs the brothers to lay down their nets and follow Him. A command the Bible tells us they obeyed without even a second thought. Simon’s faith is later tested by Jesus as he walks on water and then denies Jesus three times. In the end, Jesus tells Simon that from now on his name shall be Peter (meaning Petros or Rock) and on this “rock” He shall build His Church.
After Pentecost, Peter traveled to Antioch where he established a church which he ruled from 33AD to roughly 39AD. Peter goes on to travel all over the Roman Empire in what is now Turkey. He arrived in Rome in 40AD and remained there for the next quarter century. In 51 AD Peter returned to Jerusalem for the Council in which it was decided Gentiles need not adhere to the customs and regulations of Judaism. It was at this council that Peter and Paul not only meet, but butted heads. Paul rebukes Peter publicly over the subject of Gentile Christians. These two would meet again in Rome in 67AD.
Paul, originally known as Saul, was a Roman citizen and a Pharisee. As such, Saul was a leader of Christian persecution. One day Saul has a blinding vision, a conversion moment in which his heart is turned to Christ. He is baptized and becomes one of Christianity’s most fervent missionaries. Now known as Paul, he preaches the Gospel to the ends of the world. First to Arabia then back to Damascus. Then to Jerusalem where he visits Peter for the first council. From Jerusalem he travels throughout Europe, including Macedonia, Greece and Italy.
While preparing for a missionary trip to Spain, he is imprisoned for 2 years by the Jews in Capernium. Paul later travels again, but his ship wrecks in Malta. He is imprisoned once again. This time for 2 years for preaching in Rome. Paul was arrested a third and final time in 67 AD in Rome.
Although both Apostles of Christ, these two men ministered independent of each other. In the end, there were two people who linked their fates one with the other; Simon Magus and the Emperor Nero.
Simon Magus was a practitioner of black magic. A sorcerer if you will. Offering to pay the Apostles to give him the gift to confer upon others the Holy Spirit, Simon Magus is rebuked and ran out of the Middle East by Philip. Now bitter and more determined than ever to show his power over that of these so called “Christians,” Simon Magus takes his show on the road all the way to Rome. There he meets Emperor Nero. Besides being an all-around bad guy, Nero has a strong desire to be a sorcerer. He appoints Simon Magus to his court and aims to learn all he can from him. In order to show his superior power, Simon Magus decides to recreate the ascension of Jesus by flying around in the sky. Simon Magus does so with the help of demonic spirits. That is until the prayers of two men cause the sorcerer to come crashing to the pavement at Nero’s feet. His legs crushing on impact, Simon Magus dies of his wounds a few days later. Who were these men who caused the death of Nero’s sorcerer? None other than Peter and Paul who were both in Rome preaching the Good News of Christ Jesus.
Nero, who had begun a city-wide persecution of Christians, was furious over the death of his sorcerer by these leaders of the Christian movement. Fellow believers pleaded with Peter to flee Rome and save his life. Although he was determined to remain in Rome and suffer persecution alongside his followers, Peter gives in and heads out of town. During all of this, Paul is now incarcerated in Rome. When he comes to the city gate, Peter has a vision. He sees Christ walking into the city. Peter asks Jesus where he is going, to which he replied, “I go into Rome to be crucified again.” Peter, understanding the meaning of the vision, returns to Rome where he is imprisoned alongside Paul.
While in prison, Peter and Paul convert the Captains of the guard and 47 others. Eventually on June 29th, 67 AD Peter and Paul’s lives come to an end. Peter is taken outside the city gates where he is crucified upside down. Paul, being a Roman citizen, does not face crucifixion. Instead, he is beheaded. Tradition is that his head bounced 3 times down the pavement, and at each place a spring sprang up from the ground.
Looking at the lives and deaths of these great men, we can find the strength, determination and faith to carry on the great mission to preach the Gospel unto the ends of the world, even in the face of persecution and death. Like Peter, we are to give up everything to follow Christ when he calls us. This may not be an easy task. After all, we worked long and hard for that new car, that big house, and to secure the perfect job. It is hard to give up everything and go where the Lord leads. It is equally hard to walk out into the deep, trusting in the Lord that we will not sink. Like Peter walking on the water, so are we to have faith strong enough keep us afloat. Like Paul, no matter how hardened our hearts are, we can turn to love and accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. Even when imprisoned and on a sinking ship, Paul didn’t let anything stand in the way of him carrying out his missionary duties. No matter how bleak the situation or how tall the obstacle, we must remain strong in our faith and push on.
Remember these men when we feel that it is impossible for one person to make a difference. Remember them when we are persecuted for our faith. Remember them when we see Christians around the world martyred for their beliefs. When our own faith is shaken and we feel like the world is against us, remember Sts. Peter and Paul and ask them for guidance and look to their examples for the strength to go on.