June 29th is celebrated as the Feast Day for Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles… a feast that this year happens to fall on a Sunday where we would normally be celebrating the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time. While these two Saints have been celebrated since the earliest days of the Church, with their own feast days (St. Peter on June 29th, and St. Paul on June 30th), the 1962 revision of the General Roman Calendar combined the celebrations. It is also the day set aside for when newly consecrated Metropolitan Bishops (or Archbishops) receive their pallium from the Pope… the white woolen band with three “fingers” worn over their shoulders as a sign of their office. The Pope also wears a pallium as the sign of his office as the Archbishop of Rome. Because we are celebrating the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, our readings naturally turn our attention to these two pillars of the Church.
The Word for the Solemnity of Saints Peter & Paul, Apostles
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
We open with a reading from Acts of the Apostles where find Peter imprisoned by King Herod Agrippa and awaiting execution. As our reading tells us, both James and John have already been executed by Herod (with the support of the Pharisees) , and Peter’s execution is being planned for after the Passover. Peter double chained and under heavy guard as Herod is eager to make an example of him and thus end this Christian movement, but an angel of the Lord appears to Peter, unchains him and leads him out of the prison to safety. Peter sees this as the miracle it is, and our Psalm echoes the blessings and thanks that are felt by this occasion. Though not part of the passage we read this Sunday, the text continues with Herod having the guards tried and executed for letting Paul escape… only to die himself shortly after, giving Peter the opportunity to continue his mission.
Our second reading comes from Paul and the closing of his 2nd letter to Timothy. Paul is in prison and with a sense that his life is nearly over, pens those famous those famous words, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” Though Paul’s weariness is apparent to the point of resignation, he reminds his young protégé, Timothy, and all of us, that it is the Lord who gives him, and us, the strength to carry on, and in the end, bring us safely to Heaven.
Our Gospel from Matthew takes us back to that moment where Jesus asks the Apostles, “Who do people say that I am?” After their answer, he directs this same question to the Apostles themselves, “But who do you say that I am?” This is where Simon stands up and proclaims, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus sees his sincerity and gives him the name Peter, meaning “rock”… the rock on which he, Jesus, will build his Church.
Simon, through his faith becomes Peter, the Rock, and leader of the Apostles. Saul, the persecutor of the early Church, through his conversion becomes Paul, the voice of inclusion for both Jews and Gentiles. These two great leaders of the early Church gave us the path to follow, as handed to them by Jesus. Their writings and their example were entrusted to the Church whose teachings, for the most part, have stood the test of time and continue to inspire and guide us today.