June 29, 2014
SS PETER AND PAUL
You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. – Mt. 16: 18
Some rock! Swamp might be more accurate for this man who walked on water & then sank in fear, who went to watch in the garden to be a comfort to Jesus, but then fell asleep, who boasted fidelity but wound up with denial, who promised presence & then fled leaving his master to die alone. This was a man who clearly did not have the charisma of John the Baptist, the connections of Joseph of Arimathea or the loyalty of Mary Magdalene.
And yet … he was chosen to be a rock on which to build. Why? There are two possible reasons: First, there was his fundamental humility that led him to exclaim, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” He knew he was a sinner & could never claim credit for whatever the Lord would do, & that counts for something. Secondly, as a sinner, he is an object lesson for ages to come, in other words, God can build on fragile, sinful people, even us.
Paul, by contrast, was highly educated & spoke several languages, quick-witted & full of missionary zeal. He was even a Roman citizen at a time when that was a highly valued thing to have. He also had quite a temper, & demonstrated on more than one occasion that he did not suffer fools gladly.
Of the two, I’m personally glad that our Lord chose Peter on which to found His Church, since it means there is hope for the likes of us. Yet without Paul, we might not even know Peter’s name today. In short, both types are needed for the spread of the Gospel.
Protestants have gravitated toward Paul for their view of the Church, & Catholics have looked to Peter – each for very good reasons. I think it is a mistake to neglect either one. Yes, the role of Peter is probably needed now more than ever. We may not always agree with the call the referee makes, but without one there is no ball game. Without a magisterium to guard the deposit of faith handed down from the apostles, we fall victim to every passing fad, & everyone has to reinvent the wheel for themselves.
On the other hand, we also need the passionate spirituality of Paul to keep us from becoming moribund. I think that is why the Church has named this feast for both of them as a reminder of the need for balance – something we are not always good at. The bottom line is that both types have a place & a calling within God’s scheme of things.
The American knee-jerk reaction against anything that smacks of authority is quite simply misguided & ultimately self-defeating. Too often we fail to discern the difference between authoritative & authoritarian. Yet the alternative view that the Kingdom will somehow magically advance without our active involvement is equally mistaken. Peter’s story reminds us that it is not for us to protest our unworthiness. No, we have only one choice: to humbly receive the keys of the Kingdom & open up the doors of grace to as many people as we can. AMEN!