Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Throughout the Universal Church, we are constantly reminded of the heroic attributes each man dedicated towards spreading the Gospel to the entire world.
Saint Peter, the Prince of the Apostles and the Christ-bestowed head of the Church gives us a great example of human weaknesses transformed into the great accomplishments of his successful preaching and ministry, initially to the Judaic followers of Jesus and finally to the entire Roman Empire. His martyrdom at Rome illustrates the unwavering faith Peter maintained in the mystery of Jesus’ Paschal Mystery and inspired Gospel message.
Saint Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles presents an equally “larger than life” image of a man that experienced the power of the Gospel’s conversion through his own transformation from a persecutor of the Christian faith to one of the greatest influences on the entire course of Catholicism and its spread throughout the world.
In modern times, when we easily transport messages and information throughout the world in literally seconds, reflect on the enormity of the massive evangelical successes of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Unsurpassed in their travels, teachings and ministry to both the heirs to the covenant of Abraham and the covenant of Jesus on the cross, they literally brought the Gospel to the entire known world of their day.
Petrine and Pauline traditions are fundamental influences in the continuation of the Apostolic ministry of Peter’s Successor, Pope Benedict XVI. Since the death of both pillars of the Church, Peter and Paul, the Vicar of Christ has consistently applied and spread the teachings of the Apostles to the ends of the entire earth. On or near June 29, the Pope bestows the pallium upon all those who have been named archbishop in the previous year. It is the sign of the jurisdiction of an archbishop and its bestowal by the pope signifies that they are united all over the world to the manifestation of Saint Peter’s and Saint Paul’s legacies in the foundation and continuation of the Church of Rome.
Throughout the centuries, the Universal Church has celebrated the exceptional Gospel witness of both of these great men. The ministries of Saint Peter and Saint Paul illustrate the desire for Christian unity the Church seeks through the ministries of both Eastern and Western representations of the Catholic faith. Since the inception of his Petrine ministry, Pope Benedict continuously presents every opportunity for East and West to heal the schismatic wounds that have separated the Roman Church and the Church of Constantinople since 1054. This hope for restored unity is indicated by the presence of a delegation to Rome from the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, to share in the Liturgy of the Word with Peter’s Successor and witness the Catholic Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The uniquely different methodologies of Saint Peter and Saint Paul are great examples of the plurality of the Universal Church’s methodology in catechesis and evangelization; however, the theological essence is always the same.
Today is also a Solemnity all members of the Church should celebrate with great devotion and attention. It shows the true and essential diversity that exists liturgically and legislatively in both Eastern and Western branches of our faith: Different in liturgical expressions, but united in doctrinal beliefs.
Let us pray with our Lord, “That they may be one!”
[This article is adapted from a version that appeared last year on Hugh McNichol's blog.]