SAINT PETER (c.1-c.67) and SAINT PAUL (c.3-c.68), Apostles and martyrs
Today, the universal Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, men especially set apart by our Lord to be true pillars of His Church.
Peter, who was named Simon, was born in Bethsaida and was a fisherman of Galilee. He was introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew, also a fisherman. Jesus gave him the name Cephas, which means “Rock”, because he was to become the rock upon which Christ would build His Church.
Peter was a bold follower of our Lord. He was the first to recognize that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16b), and eagerly pledged his fidelity until death. In his boldness, however, he also made many mistakes – such as losing faith when walking on water with Christ, and denying our Lord on the night of His Passion.
Yet, despite his human weaknesses, Peter was chosen to shepherd Christ’s flock. And the Acts of the Apostles illustrates his role as head of the Church after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Peter led the Apostles and the new Church as the first pope, which became a true symbol of unity and stability.
Saint Peter spent his last years in Rome, leading the Church through persecution and eventually being martyred about the year 67. He was crucified upside-down at his own request, because he claimed he was not worthy to die as his Lord. He was buried on Vatican Hill, and Saint Peter’s Basilica was eventually built over his tomb.
Saint Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. His letters are included in the writings of the New Testament, and through them we learn much about his life and the faith of the early Church.
Before using the name Paul, which may have been his Roman name, he was first known by his Jewish name Saul, a Jewish Pharisee who zealously persecuted Christians in Jerusalem. And the Scriptures record that Saul was present at the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the Protomartyr for the new Christian faith called “the Way”.
Saul’s conversion took place as he was traveling to Damascus to persecute the Christian community there. As he was journeying along the road, he was suddenly surrounded by a great light from Heaven. He was blinded and fell to the ground. He then “…heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’” (Acts 9:4-5).
Saul continued to Damascus, where he was baptized and his sight was restored. He later used the name Paul and spent the remainder of his life preaching the Gospel tirelessly to the Gentiles of the Mediterranean world. Eventually, Paul was imprisoned and taken to Rome, where he was beheaded about the year 68. Saint Paul’s remains are buried in Rome in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls.
In the year 395, Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote of Saints Peter and Paul, “Both Apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the Apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.”
We commemorate this special Solemnity for Saints Peter and Paul on June 29.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saints Peter and Paul)
“God our Father, today You give us the joy of celebrating the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Through them, Your Church first received the faith. Keep us true to their teaching.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”