Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 9, 2024 News

I want to thank Fr. De Celles for the opportunity to write the “Pastor’s Corner” this weekend.  I enjoy reading his weekly words and learn from them. Not long after coming to St. Raymond’s, someone in another parish, told me they read Fr. D’s column regularly. The homebound have also told me that they look forward to reading the column too.  One has her grandson read it to her regularly. (I have even been gently chastised for forgetting to bring along a bulletin!)  With such great readership and acclaim, I’m honored to be entrusted this week with writing to you. 

Yesterday, we celebrated the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, pillars of the Church, who both ended their lives in Rome.  Let’s review their unlikely callings, ministry, martyrdoms, and legacy.

Their callings: Peter’s given name was Simon. He was from small town Bethsaida, (think backwaters Galilee). It lies just north of the sea. Likely a middle-aged man with only a rudimentary education, he’s a fisherman by trade. His brother Andrew tells him “We have found the Messiah.”  He then brings him to Jesus. Simon must have been taken aback when Jesus declares on first meeting that he will have a new name, “‘So you are Simon, the son of John?  You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter).” The Gospels of Matthew and Mark recount another incident when Jesus calls Peter and Andrew to a bigger enterprise: “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” Luke gives yet another encounter – I believe the lynchpin in Peter’s vocation.  He’s cleaning his nets when Jesus hops in his boat and asks him to put out a little way so he can preach to those on shore.  When finished, he says to Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” At first Peter demurs, saying that they have fished all night and caught nothing, yet he obliges.  They enclose a large shoal of fish, so great the weight begins to sink two boats with its contents.  At this moment Peter realizes he’s out of his league. He falls at Jesus knees and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Humbled and possibly trembling, Peter hears Jesus reaffirm the call, “Do not be afraid: henceforth you will be catching men.”

Saul’s (Paul’s) upbringing stands in contrast to Peter.  He is educated. The son of a tent maker, whose family, although Jews, possessed Roman Citizenship. Born at Tarsus, he seems to have been raised in Jerusalem and was a student of the great Rabbi Gamaliel. He belonged to the party of the Pharisees who often opposed Jesus. He’s mentioned in Acts as a young man at the time of Stephen’s stoning. He goes on to persecute the “Way” dragging Christians from their homes.  He’s not content with doing this in and around Jerusalem.  He gets authorization to continue in Damascus, where he plans to extricate Christians back to Jerusalem for trial. Like Peter, Paul must be humbled before he can receive his great commission. Jesus confronts him in a blinding light on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Knocked down and blinded, Paul begins to inwardly see.

Their missions:  Paul becomes the great missionary to the gentiles; Peter to the Jews. The Book of Acts records Peter’s travels—less far flung than Paul’s, but not bad for a fisherman.  He first preaches in Jerusalem. Later we find him in Sebaste (Samaria) and the same year in Lydda (now site of Tel Aviv’s international airport). He goes to the bustling port city of Joppa, Caesarea, Antioch, and finally Rome. Extra biblical sources tell

us Peter establishes the Church at Antioch, ordains a bishop for that city and travels onto Rome where he preaches and is bishop for perhaps as much as twenty-five years. Peter is held to be the author of two epistles aptly named First and Second Peter and the voice behind the Gospel of Mark. Thus, his words and proclamation go well beyond those places he visited.

Paul travels all over the ancient known world.  He visits at least fifty cities and travels through what would be modern day Turkey, Greece, and Italy. He visits several islands, including Cyprus, Crete, and Malta.  None of these are pleasure cruises though!  Paul writes nine epistles or letters to the churches and an additional four letters included in Scripture to individuals.  Three of those are known as pastoral (First and Second Timothy, and Titus) because they are written to other bishops with instructions on guiding the flock.

Their martyrdoms:  Peter and Paul end up both being imprisoned in Rome.  According to early testimonies they were martyred under the emperor Nero, some say in the same year and on the same day. However, not on the same spot and certainly not the same manner.

Paul because he was a Roman citizen received the more “humane” execution of beheading. According to legend, Paul’s severed head, bounced three times and three fountains sprang up in each spot. A monastic church was later built over the site and is called Tre Fontane (the three fountains).

The Golden Legend, a medieval compilation of stories of the saints for the days of the year, recounts Peter’s martyrdom in this way: “The brethren urged Peter to leave the city.  He was unwilling to do so, but finally, overcome by their insistence, he started out. When he got outside the city gates […] he saw Christ coming toward him and said: ‘Lord, where are you going?” Christ answered: ‘I am going to Rome to be crucified again!’ Peter: ‘You will be crucified again?’ Christ: “Yes!” And Peter said: “In that case, Lord I’m going back to be crucified with you!’ When these words had been spoken, the Lord ascended to heaven, while Peter watched and wept.  And when he realized that what had been said concerned his own passion, he returned to the city and told the brethren what had happened.” Peter was subsequently crucified upside down, per his request, saying he was not worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord had right-side up.  The place of his execution was a chariot racetrack, across the Tiber and next to Vatican Hill. At the heart of that racetrack stood an obelisk taken by the Romans from Egypt. It “witnessed” the Apostle’s martyrdom. Later in the 16th Century it was moved to the center of St. Peter’s square, still witnesses to the apostle’s martyrdom and his tomb within the Basilica.

Inside St. Peter’s are many altars. Above one, is sculpted a massive relief of Peter and Paul coming out of the clouds, brandishing swords. Below Pope Leo the Great confronts Attila the Hun who intends to pillage Rome and slaughter its inhabitants. Leo points to the clouds and the apostles above. The story goes that Leo begged Attila to spare the Roman people. As he did so, behind him appeared the apostles with flaming swords and a heavenly host. When things are dark in Church and world, Peter and Paul remind us, by their lives and deeds, God strikes when we least expect it.

Princes of the Apostles, holy Peter and Paul, pray for us!

Fr. Joseph D. Bergida