Feast of St Peter and Paul
Has Covid 19 and lockdown done anything for your faith experience?
I hope so, for me it has been less of missing the Eucharist, early on I made a mental note that we are very lucky in the availability of our Eucharistic liturgies, that this time might give me a feeling for those who cannot receive for months or even years on end because of their situations. Instead I have been on a voyage of rediscovery, trying to see the wonderful heritage the Church has in Lectio Divina, the close meditative reading of the scriptures, the patristic writings of the early communities, then other forms of worship, the Liturgy of the Hours, litany prayer, the beauty of the psalms and those wonderful acts of domestic piety, blessings, angelus, name days, feasts and fasts!
So now we have the great feast of Peter and Paul, let is celebrate it well by going into the layers of meaning we might discover in the readings for this day.
Firstly, I suspect that Covid has not yet done with us, we have become just a little too complacent, vast swathes of demob happy characters let loose on holiday beaches showed us how little we have yet to learn. Secondly nothing can and will go back to what it was like before the Virus started to hit us, we have to change, that much is clear, for if we do not then this Pandemic will return in different ways and the future of this planet will be tat much shakier. The third layer of meaning I sense is that of a great spiritual challenge and Peter and Paul lead us to reflect on that moment we face. In that celebrated tale of Peter leaving Rome and meeting Christ who asked him; 'Quo vadis?' Where are you going? we will find an echo of the hidden question that these saints hand to us as we celebrate them.
Each of the scripture readings for the liturgy of the Day have in them a sense of ending, of death, of unknowns to come rather than a triumphant festival of Peter and Paul. That declaration of Jesus in Matthew 18:18, 'And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,*and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it', is less a statement of power and much more of weakness, the rock is unstable, Peter has denied and hidden his relationship with Christ and in his ministry he will make mistakes, this church will continue on in time, a community of weakness, a community of betrayal and sin, and with it the wounded Christ will walk. This is perhaps the lesson we are all being asked to learn today, a change of heart means a change from being an institution of grandeur and power to the wounded community of the broken ones whose message on this feast is that of Micah, to love tenderly, act justly and walk humbly with God and each other. The story from Acts about Peters' liberation is nearly his death, for James has been killed and Peter is next in line, the Apostles will not replace James, the time of the Twelve is drawing to an end, instead new horizons and a new community beckon, of which we are the descendants and Peter will leave his native land, preach to the gentiles and die in Rome.
Paul too sighs in weakness, his journey has not won him applause or fame, rather he has given all, made mistakes like Peter, he is worn out, finished, the words he speaks have a poignancy, because they are not the words of somebody giving a retirement speech, but an exhortation to us all to keep our hand on the plough, a vision of his own end, but of the hope of the resurrection; 'I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance'. (2Tim 4:7,8) This feast, in this year of greater change than I possibly can foresee, the voices of Peter and Paul remind me that we have a calling to do the Lord's work, that we too having lost so many of our elderly and sick in the first stage of the Pandemic, owe it to our world and people to be the voices of life, light and conversion. I leave you with words from our Psalm 34 said by St John Fisher as he went to his martyrdom. Hold these words dear, they are powerful and are ours to pray with deep desire:
"Look to him and be radiant,
and your faces may not blush for shame.
This poor one cried out and the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him". (Ps 34: 7,8)
We are not alone, the company of heaven and Peter and Paul are also with us. May their prayers help us all!
Prayer for the feast of Peter and Paul
May the prayers of the apostles Peter and Paul, fill us with a deep sense of justice for all the poor who cry in distress, give us the strength to follow them in humble service and tender love of Christ and his people; that we may always be good servants of the Lord, our faces never ashamed of looking for him, radiant with the glimpse of His light given to us through forgiveness and mercy, that our failings may be undone by love. Amen
Fr Robin Gibbons
27 06 20
The Martyrdom of St Peter and St Paul
by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens
Here is a poem written in the late 4th century AD by the Latin poet Prudentius as part of his work, the Peristephanon or Martyr's Garland. The poem follows the way of a pilgrim visiting the shrines in Rome on the very feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and dwells a little on the details of the martyrdoms of the two Apostles.
The poem is significant as one of the earliest accounts of Saint Peter's inverted crucifixion.
May, friend, what means this stir today? What summons gathers all
These happy troops along the streets of Rome?
The feast ennobled by the blood of Peter and of Paul
Calls forth the worshippers to leave their home.
The self-same day with interval of one revolving year
Beheld the pair by death triumphant crowned.
Full well doth Father Tiber know, gliding those marshes near,
Hallowed with trophies twain that turfy ground.
Both Cross and Sword he witnessed, twice the ghastly shower saw fall,
The self-same herb bedewed with martyr's blood.
A victim first fell Peter, in Nero's judgment-hall
Condemned to hang upon the towering wood.
But he, in fear to emulate his Master, cannot brook
To court the doom that our salvation earned:
And he claimeth from his murderer one boon, that he may look
On the Tree's nether limb with head down-turned.
So then his hands transfixed below, the top his feet upbore:
Greater in spirit as more vile in guise,
Remembering "Who abaseth self exalted shall he soar,"
To give his soul to heaven, he bowed his eyes.
Soon as the circling seasons brought the swift recurring date,
And Orient Sun reushered in the day,
The tyrant spat on holy Paul the venom of his hate,
Christ's world-worn Teacher resolute to slay.
He had seen the goal-had written "I am ready to depart
And be with Christ," with heaven-inspired pen.
The headsman does his office. Beats no more that noble heart;
Nor day nor hour has failed his prescient ken.
On either bank, nigh each to each, their ashes now repose,
Where winds the stream between the two hallowed graves;
The gilded shrine that on the right doth Peter's bones enclose
'Neath sough of olives sacred Tiber laves.
Poem - St Peter by Malcolm Guite
Impulsive master of misunderstanding
You comfort me with all your big mistakes;
Jumping the ship before you make the landing,
Placing the bet before you know the stakes.
I love the way you step out without knowing,
The way you sometimes speak before you think,
The way your broken faith is always growing,
The way he holds you even when you sink.
Born to a world that always tried to shame you,
Your shaky ego vulnerable to shame,
I love the way that Jesus chose to name you,
Before you knew how to deserve that name.
And in the end your Saviour let you prove
That each denial is undone by love.
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. You can follow him on Twitter: @RobinGibbons2
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