Stand firm and get the message out there.
As we remember these two pillars of the Church, St. Peter and St. Paul, we celebrate the establishment of the Good News which took root and has grown despite immense opposition from evil. At the Lord’s birth, we had King Herod who wanted to kill the child; then came the decision of the authorities to kill Jesus; this continued through to the persecution of the Church. From the start, the devil has tried every means to snuff out the Gospel of God’s universal love and the Lord’s victory over sin and death. The bearers of the Good News met with powerful and organized opposition and yet the Gospel succeeded! The early witnesses were brought before courts, thrown into gaol, flogged and even killed but the Good News and the Church were established. This was of course the work of the Holy Spirit. He worked through the courageous tenacity of determined witnesses and their love of Jesus, inspiring the first people who believed and in turn shared the apostles love for the Lord and came to faith. St. Peter and St. Paul each made their necessary contribution to the Church’s putting down firm roots, becoming vibrant faith communities with Teaching, Sacraments and ministries, and living the common life of holiness and charity.
The Lord chooses His heralds. Simon the fisherman became Peter the Rock, the shepherd, the first pope to protect and unify the Church. Stability in the storm of life. Saul, the Pharisee, became Paul the great teacher and missionary travelling extensively to establish faith communities. Both men had faults and frailties and seemed unlikely apostles; Simon/Peter denied the Lord and Saul/Paul had persecuted the Church. But both were changed by the Lord: Simon to Peter by his time with Jesus; Saul into Paul by his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Both were called to be sharers of the Gospel and to nurture the Church in its earliest days. Both initiated and watched over the small, infant flock of the Lord. Peter and Paul took every opportunity to teach the Truth about Jesus and His Kingdom, to hold the Church together and to resist the attack of evil and error. Both used witness, duty/ministry and word to sustain the Church. Paul gave us his letters containing teaching, guidance and encouragement which form the greatest single contribution to the New Testament. Both engendered faith and faithfulness. Both fulfilled their vocation well and we are here today because of them. They willingly gave their lives so that we might know how much Jesus loves us.
We thank God that the apostolic preaching and teaching of the Gospel found hospitality, a welcome in the hearts of the first believers. That they weren’t intimidated by evil and its cohorts. It is encouraging for us who often find the world inhospitable to our Catholic values and beliefs. We, like Peter and Paul, must accept that evil will oppose us tooth and nail to embarrass, unsettle, undermine and silence us. They did it to Jesus, to His witnesses, we are no different. The apostles remained joyful not sad. They were full of hope and never became despondent. We must not worry. The Good News will make friends in every age no matter what the opposition. I mean, it has worked with us and other that we know, hasn’t it? As in today’s Gospel, Peter spoke of Jesus as the living God. Jesus is alive, active interrelating with us, animating and empowering us, loving us and filling us with His life and joy. People are searching and they are watching us. Let us help them to find Who they are looking for. All the Lord needs are witnesses to lay out His wares. Are we the right material? Yes, we are. Jesus doesn’t call the ready, He readies the called. We just have to trust and step forward. We are the clay; the Lord is the potter.
Our first reading today and Peter’s imprisonment strikes a note of recognition for us. We see today how evil wants to close doors to us. Peter is enclosed in gaol. The community is praying for him behind closed doors. When he is released to comes to the house of John’s mother, Mary and the door is closed so he knocks and enters. Evil tries hard. Peter in gaol had been guarded by four sections of four soldiers, fettered by two chains with a guard either side of him. It epitomises the extent and effort of evil using its full panoply of instruments to neutralize the Truth. BUT PETER IS SET FREE! The angel comes and delivers Peter through evil’s maximum security. The message for us: NOTHING CAN FETTER OF INHIBIT THE GOPESL OF THE LORD- I REPEAT NOTHING. As Jesus tells us, the gates of evil can never hold out against the love and Mercy of the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter has the keys to unlock all that seeks to imprison us. Later, the stone will be rolled away for the Risen Lord to walk fully, eternally alive. Like a jack in the box, the Good News jumps up in all its power and life, uninhibited and free to liberate all. It is the power of the Paschal Mystery of the death, resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit which evil cannot defeat. The victory has been won and we are living out its accomplishment. when I visited Tanzania, a priest told me a story. He was catechising the children about the Paschal Mystery. He asked them how they would explain what happened at the Resurrection and Pentecost to other children. One child said: Father, I would say Jesus’s rising from the dead and the sending of the Holy Spirit was like shaking a bottle of soda and taking the top off and the soda go psssst all over the place! An image any child could understand! Evil can’t put the top back on the bottle of the Lord’s victory over sin and death – the Good News of God’s Mercy is out to stay – all over the place!
This feast reminds us of our individual call, our particular vocation to be the story tellers of Jesus in our own time. We are called by the Lord just as surely as He called Peter and Paul. God has given us the time, the talent and entrusted us with the Treasure of Truth. We must be opportunists like Paul in Athens and build on what we find. Like Peter as he heals a sick person, he also invites those who have seen the miracle to listen to the basic proclamation of Jesus as the Risen Lord and believe in Him – and many do. We are channels of God’s love, channels that flow two ways: we receive and we give, we give and we receive. What God gives us we give to others, others in their acceptance of Jesus give encouragement to us. I want to return to that marvellous account of Peter’s deliverance in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
We see the power of prayer: The community is praying for Peter and its prayer works. They knew they were praying against the odds but they still prayed with hope. We need that kind of prayer underpinned by that sort of confident faith. A faith that believes in miracles. We see the process of God’s assistance answering the community’s prayer is to initiate release; an angel is dispatched. What the angel says to Peter can be of immense value to us:
“Get up”,the angel tells Peter. We too must get up from our despondency, our burdens, our past, our guilt, our disappointments/regrets, our disillusionment, our limitations, our disasters, our despair, our particular darkness, sadness and trials.
“Put on your belt”, the angel said. Put on the discipline/protection that will restrain you from doubt and fear.
“Put on your sandals”, the angel continues, the sandals of acceptance of the journey we must walk for Jesus, to go the extra mile in the pilgrimage of life and the mission of witness, to make our stand for the Truth.
“Wrap your cloak around you”, the angel adds. To the beggar, the cloak was security, one’s shelter from the weather, the cold, the night. It was the beggar’s tenuous home. We walk with the cloak of the Lord’s grace about us providing for our every need, our greatest security. We are reminded of our white garment, given at baptism, when we clothed ourselves with Christ. the angel concludes:
“Follow me”. The words we associate with the call of the Lord which we must not see as a once and for all, but a summons we must regularly hear, refresh/renew and celebrate. We can imagine Peter’s hasty steps trying to keep up with the angel, there is a haste about him as there was at his visit to the empty tomb. Paul spoke of running the race to the finish, and when he was under house arrest he never felt happier or more free. I know an elderly lady who wears running shoes because she finds them more comfortable, she is well equipped to catch up with Peter and Paul.
The end product of this angelical intervention securing St. Peter’s miraculous release is his absolute conviction that: “It is all true. The Lord really did send an angel to save me”. If I could speak for St. Peter and St. Paul, I think they would ask for us to display the love and desire to witness that Jesus had placed in them. That it is all true and to live accordingly. We must feel, in these troubled times particularly, the Rock of Peter under our feet. From Paul, we must believe even in our hesitating words, God has something very important to say to the world. When others are curious about us Catholics, it is vital we correctly say Who Jesus is. We could always consult our angel. Be assured that an angel has been assigned to each of us, to walk with us, to see us safely though. Let us be in no doubt, we need our angel, the evil one is roaming about and the threat level is high. But we are always in the Good Shepherd’s safe hands and nothing can come between us and the love of Jesus. St. Paul admitted to a tension in his life, he wanted to be gone to Jesus, but he knew there was lots of the Lord’s work yet to be done. Let us just serve the Lord one day at a time. A monk while mopping the cloister was asked what he would do if the Lord was to come for him in ten minutes time? Would he find a priest and go to confession, or to try to contact his family for the last time? “No” he said. “I would double my efforts to try to finish mopping this floor”. Everything we do lovingly is an act of love for God – do not question your ability to be Good News while serving the Kingdom in the most menial of tasks. Never underestimate your mop and bucket!
Fr. Gerard X