The Church takes time out this Sunday to honor the lives of two great saints: Peter and Paul. Their lives and legacies are certainly complex and each of them deserves a closer look as to how and what they can teach us ordinary disciples living in the 21st century.
Let us start with Saint Peter. He has a somewhat lackluster approach to living the life of an Apostle. His relationship with Jesus is sometimes tried. Jesus challenges Peter and in Jesus’s characteristically loving and patient way, Peter occasionally misses the mark. “Peter, do you love me?” Jesus asks Peter this question thrice and in the end, after responding in the affirmative, Peter is sad that Jesus needs to ask him this question three times and is exacerbated and seemingly throws up his hands not knowing what else to say to the Lord. Jesus knew, as Peter pointed out, everything, including that Peter would deny him three times at His greatest hour of need. It is almost as if the two occasions negate one another. Peter struggles with his faith…just as we sometimes struggles with his own faith yet, despite the doubt, darkness and despair, this very first Vicar of Christ, becomes a voice of compassion and love as shortly after the Resurrection of Jesus Peter becomes a voice that spreads the Good News.
And then, of course, there is good ol’ Saint Paul! I was recently with a group of priest friends and for some reason our conversation turned to Pauline sayings. One of my brother priests quipped that he is fond of saying when Paul writes something that seems obsolete or antiquated “that is just Paul being Paul!” Saint Paul is certainly an interesting subject to study. This staunch defender of the ways of the Children of Israel will go to any length to stop the “New Way” from spreading like wild fire. Paul, for his part, was present at the stoning of the proto-martyr Stephen. He persecuted the early Christians and would do anything to stop them from making Jesus’s Name known. It takes a manifestation of God’s power to shake Paul up so that he will stop persecuting the early followers of Jesus. On the road, Paul is thrown off of the animal that he is riding and he hears the voice of Jesus call out to him and inquires why he is persecuting Him. Paul (at this point Saul) questions but is quick to believe. We know the end of the story. The greatest persecutor soon becomes the staunchest defender and goes to great lengths to promote the name of Jesus even to the point of giving up his own life.
We take time to honor these two men today because they teach us that conversion is always a possibility. It is never too late to turn back to God. When we are at the lowest point during our spiritual journey and we think that there is no possibility of turning back, the Lord gently extends His Merciful Hand out to us and asks us to embrace so that He can shower us with His forgiveness. As we remember the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, let us take some time and reflect on how we ourselves are like these two sinners turned saints and ask for their powerful intercession so that we can better imitate their fidelity to Christ.