Unity and Mission
(Mass during the Day Readings: Acts 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19)
Introduction to Mass
Today we remember the two great apostolic figures of the early Church, Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Their personalities were very different, from what we can gather, and they seemed to have had different ideas about how best to spread the message of the gospel, but they were both singleminded in their dependence on Christ, and in their readiness to do his work. That's what is highlighted particularly by their shared feast.
As we prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries we call to mind our sinfulness and we ask God for his forgiveness.
Unlike a lot of modern novels and biographies, the Bible doesn't really go into a lot of detail about the personalities and motives of the characters it talks about. They're not presented in their own light, as it were, they're presented in the light of the part they play in carrying out God's plan - and that's true even of Christ himself, who said quite often that what he was doing was the will of his Father in heaven, and not just following his own wishes.
So the same thing is obviously true of the two characters that we're commemorating in today's feast. Saint Peter and Saint Paul aren't important, in a sense, as individual personalities. They're important as symbols or types, and they're significant for the different principles in the life of the Church that they both represent.
In those early days of the Church's existence it wasn't long before Saint Peter came to be looked on as a symbol of the unity of the Church and the need to look after the fellowship and the whole basis of the shared faith of the members of the Christian community. And it wasn't long before Saint Paul came to personify the missionary drive, the drive to evangelise and to preach the Christian message to people outside of the community and to persuade them to accept it.
These two facets of the Church's life that Peter and Paul stand for - sustaining the faithful and converting the heathen, if I can put it that way - are really two sides of the one coin. We need both, and they balance each other.
The way that the names of Peter and Paul came to be linked together in this liturgical feast reflects the fact that both their roles are necessary and complimentary in the life of the Christian community - safeguarding the unity of those inside the Church, and offering the prospect of salvation to those outside.
Despite their differences of personality, and their different ideas about how to foster the growth of the church, the one thing Peter and Paul had in common was that they would both have said that it wasn't themselves that was important, but Christ. When some of Christ's followers were leaving him because they found his teaching too difficult and he asked the disciples if they were going to go away as well, it was Peter who said, "Lord, where can we go? You have the words of eternal life". And Paul said the same thing in his own way in that great line in one of his letters when he says it isn't me who's alive, it's Christ who's alive, Christ who's living in me.
Both of them were men who, in different ways, were changed completely by their meeting with Christ. Both of them were men who learned to be completely dependent on Christ, and to give up everything for the sake of following him and doing his work. So we shouldn't think of Peter and Paul just as interesting historical figures, or distant figures to be admired. We should see them as examples of faith and sanctity whose reliance on Christ is there for us to imitate as well. That the main lesson I'd take from this feast today that puts the spotlight on them both.