Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul. In 1999 St. John Paul II, in a homily for this feast, called Peter and Paul “pillars” of the Church. Yet we would be hard-pressed to find two different men.
Peter was a fisherman, married and working in the family business. He loved Christ; Peter was willing to follow Him because he knew Jesus was the Messiah. Peter jumped in with both feet, but he also stumbled every chance he got. He couldn’t quite reach out to Christ, who assured Him that Peter could, indeed, walk on water. Peter trembled, hid, and denied Jesus as the Passion of Christ played out. Yet, Peter was the one Jesus chose to lead the Church: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church. (Mt. 16:18)
Paul was a man with a past. He even had a different identity: Saul. He was zealous – about ridding the world of this new religion that proclaimed the Messiah. He tormented Christians, and for this, God knocked him off his feet and blinded him. Saul takes on a new identity: Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles. Despite their differences, these two men, more than any others, shaped the early Church, spread the faith and became leaders in the name of Christ Jesus.
In a sermon in the year 395, St. Augustine of Hippo said 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.’
This feast tells us two things. First, we have two incredible men who are part of the “great cloud of witnesses,” and we should beg their intercession, as well as follow their examples of faith. The other thing we learn from this day is that God uses everyone, flaws and all. Christ chose a fisherman who couldn’t always be brave and a Jew who hated Christians to lead his Church. If these two men can find the strength to follow Christ, then so can we.