The celebration of any saint is a cause of rejoicing for the Church. When we come to celebrate these two apostles, St Peter and St Paul, it is a feast so significant as to replace even a Sunday.
These are the two great witnesses from whom we received the beginnings of the true Faith. Their crucial witness to that true faith in martyrdom ultimately rests on the strength that was given them by the Lord and it was He who chose them to play a major role in his plans for his Church and for her ultimate victory over the powers of evil.
Today causes us to reflect upon the Church in its two dimensions –the hierarchical and the charismatic.
In Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Council of Vatican II teaches that the Holy Spirit “equips and directs [the Church] with hierarchical and charismatic gifts”. (LG 4)
It could be said that these two apostles, the founders of Christian Rome, represent these two dimensions; though not exclusively – St Peter the hierarchical and St Paul the charismatic.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the church prays for St Peter because he is in danger. The church was in danger because St Peter was in danger.
Today, the church continues to pray for the one who holds the Petrine office, Francis, and the college of bishops, particularly our own bishop, Mark, who holds the office of the apostles.
Together, St Peter and St Paul represent the catholicity and universality of the church; St Peter to the Jews and St Paul to the Gentiles, in other words, the whole world
St Peter is regularly shown in icons, in sculpture and art as holding the keys of the Kingdom and St Paul holds a sword.
The keys St Peter holds represent the authority given him by Christ. “You are St Peter and on this rock I will build my Church…I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”(Matt 16:17-19)
St Peter is given the authority from Christ to speak to the Church, to make decisions, and to govern the Church. This is dramatically shown in the Gospel reading as St Peter speaks for the other apostles and declares their faith in the identity of Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God. Christ’s commissioning of St Peter follows his declaration of faith.
The sword of St Paul represents the power of the Word of God, described in the Letter to the Hebrews as a double-edged sword. It is the Word of God that the Church has the authority to teach.
Between them, these two apostles represent the hierarchical task of the Church to teach us, to govern us and to make us holy. This is the apostolic ministry; the task of the hierarchy, which is endowed and guided by the Holy Spirit. This ministry is exercised by our Pope and our Archbishop.
Today we honour St Paul and St Peter as heroes of our faith and the pillars on which the Church has been built, and we stand in awe and with gratitude for what the grace of God achieved in their lives and through them; most notably the courage to die for Christ. And here we come to the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church. These charismatic gifts work in human nature making our weak human nature strong with supernatural power.
Both St Peter and St Paul were not perfect. Both were guilty of very serious wrongs. They sinned; they exercised bad judgement. St Peter denied Jesus and St Paul hounded the followers of Jesus to their deaths. Yet Jesus showed them both mercy and turned them into the saints and apostles we honour today.
But while there were dramatic moments of forgiveness and conversion: for St. St Paul, on the road to Damascus, and for St Peter, on the shores of Lake Gallilee, we must remember there was ongoing, daily work of conversion and commitment in their lives; continuing to cooperate with grace; to receive what the Spirit offered.
Like all of us, St Paul and St Peter had character faults and weaknesses that took time for God to correct and transform. They were not always models of perfection. They were real human beings who battled sin and selfishness and who grew to love Jesus more than life itself. We honour St Peter and St Paul that they kept fighting, pressing on to become more like Christ, the Master they served.
How did these two men, so flawed, so human, become the two unshakable pillars of the Catholic Church?
What transformed them into saints, martyrs, and history-makers?
God’s grace: the same grace that has kept the Church alive and growing for twenty centuries; the same grace we all received at baptism. The same Holy Spirit who is the soul of the Church. It was the same Holy Spirit who kept St Peter free from error in the faith and inspired St Paul in his teaching – hierarchical and charismatic gifts.
On today’s Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul, we reflect upon Christ’s Church which is ordered and graced in equal measure by the Holy Spirit. And that it was Christ’s intention to found a Church upon St Peter and to endow it with the apostolic charism.
We are reminded too that our holiness depends on God’s grace and our co-operation with it. No matter where we are in our faith, even if we fail miserably over and over again, God will work in us if we keep turning back to him and allow Him to do so.
We can all be transformed just as powerfully as Simon was into St Peter and Saul was into St Paul.