(Vigil readings, since they are used in homily)
This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Usually saints’ feast days are separate because they mark the anniversary of the death of that particular person, but this is not the case with these two great missionaries. They are placed side by side because their individual paths took them to the Eternal City of Rome, where they were each martyred for the faith – Peter, crucified upside-down because he didn’t think he was worthy enough to die in the same manner as Christ; Paul, a Roman citizen, was shown mercy and simply beheaded. They became disciples in very different ways, preached to separate peoples, took different missionary paths, and lived very different lives. And yet they came to receive the same martyr’s crown, as the Preface for Mass tells us today. These men are a sort of microcosm of the Church in their unity and diversity.
At our baptism, every single one of us received a candle from the minister as the words were spoken, “Receive the Light of Christ.” That symbolic gesture is a reality that we have all been enlightened by the Lord Jesus Christ and as such, we are supposed to be the light of Christ in the midst of the world that so often is full of darkness. By the simple fact that we call ourselves Christians – we literally bear the name of Jesus! – we must then live the example that Jesus set. We must be a people of love who seek to serve the poor and draw all people to the loving embrace of the Heavenly Father in the joy of eternal life that is to come. This was Jesus’ mission and it is ours. This is where we are united. We are all members of the same Body and all have the same goal. The difference is that we all are called to do this in different ways. This we can look at in three points.
First – we must all be a people of prayer. If we are not a people of prayer, we are not a people of God because prayer is relationship with the Lord. We must pray and we must pray in the way that fits our personality and spirituality. The beauty of the Church is the wide variety of styles of prayer that rest within her and so it is for us each to find that way that permits our hearts to encounter Jesus and to dive deeply into that place. Our prayer cannot be something that just happens on Sunday or even just a few days a week. It must be daily, even if only for a few minutes. If we commit to a few minutes then eventually we will want more time and will ache for the time of prayer when it is taken away by busy schedules or life’s demands. That’s when we know we are really praying with the Lord.
Second – we must use what we have. In the Vigil readings we heard the story from the book of Acts where Peter and John were going to the Temple (they were men of prayer!) and along the way they encounter a man at the gate who couldn’t walk. Peter goes to Him and says, “I have neither gold nor silver, but what I have I give. In the name of Jesus Christ, rise and walk.” And he did. There is a temptation sometimes in the spiritual life to think that because we don’t have this or that person’s gifts we aren’t useful. That because we aren’t as ‘holy’ as some other person or that we aren’t ‘worthy’ of some specific task that we shouldn’t do it. We can think to ourselves ‘one day, when my relationship with Jesus is better I can do that, but not today’. When we do these things we cut off the work that God has in store for us to do. We limit the God of all creation. The truth is that none of us is ever holy enough, worthy enough to do God’s work. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t called to it.
The Gospel passage from the Vigil was the story of Peter and Jesus that we all know – how Jesus asks three times “Do you love me?” and Peter responds three times, “Lord, you know that I love you.” The problem with that passage for us is that that there are two different words employed for the concept of love. The same as I can say I love pizza and I love Jesus with two different meanings, the original Greek text uses two different words entirely: agapao and phileo. Jesus asks, ‘Do you love me?’ using agapao - in a sacrificial, self-giving sort of way. Peter responds, ‘Lord, you know that I love you.’ – using phileo – in a fraternal way. Jesus asks again employing ‘agapao’ and Peter again responds with ‘phileo’. The third time Jesus says ‘Do you love me?’ – using ‘phileo’. He basically says, ‘You don’t love me enough to be sacrificial yet, but do you at least love me like a brother, like a close friend?’ And Peter says ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you’ – using ‘phileo’ a third time. Peter recognizes that while he loves the Lord, it is not yet at the level that Christ desires. And yet, what happens? We hear the Lord continue, saying, ‘When you were younger you dressed yourself and did as you pleased, but one day you will have someone else dress you and lead you where you don’t want to go.’ He love Peter where he is and then assures him that one day he will be able to love in the sacrificial ‘agapao’ way that Christ desires. And then He simply says, “Follow me.”
Our life is not about getting our act together and becoming perfect people and then following Jesus. It’s about accepting ourselves wherever we are and placing ourselves at the feet of Jesus, know that, like Peter, we aren’t able to love Him as much as He wants but that we are willing to at least follow after Him and try to learn. That’s what Jesus desires, our willingness to be used in whatever place we are today. It’s not that God will work great miracles when we become holy people. It’s that God will work great miracles through each and every one of us and that will make us into holy people.
This leads me to the last point – being ready to act. Peter and John were simply on their way to the Temple and the Spirit moved them to approach and heal the individual at the gate. How often does God speak to us in our daily lives? He’s certainly speaking; maybe we just don’t hear Him because our lives are too noisy to hear the still, small voice. For instance, have you every had that feeling that you can’t explain that you just have to do something different? The other day I was driving home from the office and I drove past someone’s house and I felt this something on my heart saying that I should stop in and visit them. I made some excuse of needing to get back and kept on going. When I arrived home, guess who had just left me a voicemail for me at the rectory asking me to come by? The person whose house I had just driven by! I know from personal experience and from stories of others the ways that the Spirit can work when in the midst of our daily lives we have that something urging us to take a different way home, to linger for a few minutes in a particular place for some unknown reason, to speak to someone or to offer a prayer for someone who happens to be on your mind. These are the ways that miracles happen and lives are changed more often than not.
Peter didn’t try to be Paul, Paul didn’t try to be Peter, and we don’t have to try to be anyone other than the person God created us to be. It is our particular strengths and weaknesses that God created specifically in us and wants to work through to speak to the world seeking His voice. Through the intercession of Saints Peter and Paul, may we today set ourselves at the feet of Jesus and open ourselves to being instruments in His hands to accomplish whatever works He desires. God grant us this grace and the strength to carry it out each and every day!