Jesus hand-picked both these two men for a uniquely special purpose in His Church. If you look on the surface, neither man was anything special. In fact, both men had serious character flaws.
Peter: a profane man—“depart from me Lord, for I am a profane man”
Peter: a cowardly man—“I swear I do not know the man”
Saul (later Paul): a persecutor — he was present at the stoning of one of the first permanent deacons, St. Stephen. To this day, new deacons are still a little wary of crowds. No one has any stones, right?
Saul/Paul: a self-righteous man –“he approved of the killing of Stephen”
In spite of these defects, Jesus had unbelievable plans for both of them.
As we heard today’s Gospel, Peter is made the first pope. Jesus is establishing Apostolic Secession here. He gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. This is powerful. Some people ask: why do we have to obey the Pope? Because we are instructed to do so, here, in Matt. 16. Jesus originally gave Peter, the cowardly and profane man, the keys to Heaven, BUT, Jesus had already opened the gates of Heaven when he was resurrected, so, Peter and his successors are to hold the keys to Heaven, here on Earth, until Jesus returns. Today, Francis holds these keys, as the 266th successor to St. Peter! This action of Christ authorizes the Church, and her leader, the Pope, to direct and guide people towards Heaven. This mandate is given to Peter and the Church, here on Earth, until Christ returns. Peter and his successors are the gatekeepers, acting on behalf of Christ.
Jesus transformed Peter. In the three years, that Peter followed Jesus, he learned many things, but the true transformation doesn’t fully occur, until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Both Judas and Peter had, in fact, betrayed Christ, but Peter’s heart is humble enough to ask for forgiveness. On the lake, after Jesus’ resurrection, we are told of this verbal exchange: “Simon, son of John, do you love me? Yes, Lord you know I do.” This is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Reconciliation is a three part healing experience. The first is a feeling of remorse for doing something bad, the second is to ask for forgiveness and the third is the restoration of the bond of love. This is what we witness here between Peter and Jesus. Jesus encourages Peter to repair his bond of love for Him. This sacrament of healing helps transforms all of us, as do all the sacraments!
Jesus transforms Saul, too. On the road to Damascus, Paul is blinded by the light and hears a voice that asks why are you persecuting me, Saul? Saul asks who this voice is and the answer really floors him. The voice says, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). This experience transformed Saul, who now becomes forevermore, Paul. He, in turn forms several Christian communities throughout the world and becomes a major teacher and leader of this new religion.
Jesus wants to transform all of us. Through the sacraments, we become more like Christ, and especially in receiving Holy Communion, we are truly transformed. Remember the old expression, which rings true, “you are what you eat”? The more we allow Christ into our lives, physically and spiritually, the more we become like Christ.
Both Peter and Paul later in their lives come to Rome, the center of the Empire, where they both encounter the evil Emperor, Nero at different times. Both men stood solid in their faith and for Christ and both were martyred. The graves of these two great saints are close by each other, in Rome. St. Paul’s is in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Paul’s-outside-the Walls. St. Peter is buried in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. Both men showed by their lives and deaths, exceptional love and devotion to Jesus Christ. We will probably not have to show our love for Christ by enduring a gruesome death like Peter and Paul, but we can still show Christ we love him by simpler acts: such as spending time in prayer with him daily, receiving the sacraments frequently and continually showing kindness towards others.
“As stated in Paul’s letter to Timothy…..let us pray that we finish the race, that we always keep the faith, and that we always keep our trust in God.”
[Editor’s Note: Brian, along with 13 other men in service to the Church, was ordained to the Diaconate today on June 28, 2014 on the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary by the Most Reverent Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh. This mediation forms Brian’s Homily that he will be preaching during Masses for tomorrow as a new Deacon. Well done, Brian. Keep Running The Good Race.]