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Saints Peter and Paul, Imperfect but Chosen

by Joel V. Ocampo

On June 29, the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles. St. Peter was part of the original Twelve but St. Paul was not. However, both of them became the pillars of the Universal Church. From them, we can learn four things that we can use in our participation in the missionary work of the Lord:

  1. stand up and move forward,

  2. do all things for the glory of God,

  3. work hard and do not grow slack in zeal, and

  4. boast in the Lord, and not for self.

Sts. Peter and Paul in Christian Orthodoxy | from St. Peter Orthodox Church

Stand Up and Move Forward

The Gospels recorded that St. Peter was not perfect. In fact, he committed at least ten blunders (Lk. 5:3-6, 8; Mt. 14:26-31; 16:21-23; 17:4; 17:27-27; 18:21-22; 19:27-30; Jn. 13:6-10; 19:10-11; Luke 22:54-62). He falls, he fails, he often misunderstood the teachings of Jesus. However, the Lord took mercy on him, became patient to him, and did not gave up on him, believing that Peter rises every time he falls and fails.

When asked by the Lord, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” (Jn. 21:15). Peter had actually missed the point when he answered the first two questions. Jesus had asked “Do you love me?” (ἀγαπᾷς με = agapas me?) using the Greek verb “agapein” for love. Peter kept answering “Yes, Lord, I love you”, (Ναί Κύριε φιλῶ σε = Nai Kurie, philo se) using a different Greek verb, “philein”, for love.

Reflecting on this passage in John 21:15-19, Bishop Pablo David once said, “What was Jesus expecting of Peter? Well, nothing short of what Jesus had said in his last will and testament, what he called his New Commandment: ‘Love one another as I love you’ (Jn 15:12). Here I imagine Peter in tears after Jesus asked him for the third time, ‘Do you love me?’. I think it was only then that Peter realized what Jesus was doing; that the Lord was raising him back to life. Jesus was giving him the opportunity to renew his commitment—with one word of love for every word of denial. What I find most touching in this Gospel is the way Jesus reformulates his question when he asks Peter the third time, ‘Do you love me?’. There, he does not force the question anymore. Instead, he adjusts to Peter’s vocabulary, using the Greek verb PHILEIN, the more common word that refers to HUMAN LOVE, instead of the more noble word AGAPEIN that John takes to mean DIVINE LOVE. Peter actually gets the point when he answers the third time. I think what he meant to say was this, ‘Lord, I know you expect me to love you as you love me. But how can I do that? You know that I am only human and a sinner. Forgive me, but that is the only way of loving that I know.”

Like St. Peter, no matter how many blunders we commit, let us stand up and move forward, learn from mistakes and grow into deep communion with Jesus who loved us.

Do All Things for the Glory of God

The Benedictines have this motto: “That in all things God may be glorified!” This line was actually lifted from the first letter of St. Peter. The fourth chapter of the letter says, “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God; whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

If we read the Acts of the Apostles, the Sanhedrin knew that St. Peter was “uneducated, ordinary man” (Acts 4:13). He was an ordinary fisherman from Galilee, but after receiving the Holy Spirit, St. Peter became courageous in proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 2:14ff), and the first recorded post-resurrection miracle through an apostle was done by St. Peter (Acts 3:1-8). The Scriptures further tells us, “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them. A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured” (Acts 5:12, 15-16).

Recognizing that all of these were done by the hand of God through him, St. Peter emphasized, “let it be seen as God’s power so that, in everything, God may be glorified through Jesus Christ”. Inspired by St. Peter, in everything we do, let us do all things for the glory of God.

Work Hard and Do Not Grow Slack in Zeal

Now we go to St. Paul. Before his conversion, Saul (Paul) was very zealous in the observing the Law of God. As a Pharisee, he was educated strictly in their ancestral law at the feet of Gamaliel (Cf. Acts 22:3). He was zealous for God, just as the other devout Jews during his time. This zeal and love for the Law moved him to persecute the Christians that led to the death of St. Stephen. However, he has been mercifully treated by Jesus because he acted out of ignorance (Cf. 1 Tim. 1:13). After his conversion, St. Paul dedicated his life to proclaiming the mercy of God, even to the Gentiles. Because of this metanoia experience and his zeal in proclaiming the mercy of God, we have now the Letters of St. Paul to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.

Being a zealous apostle, St. Paul was not exempted from persecution. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, he narrated his sufferings such as scourging, beaten with rods, shipwrecked, stoned, and many others. However, he continued his mission. By participating in the mission of salvation, St. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal. 2:19b-20).

Boast In the Lord, and Not for Self

Finally, St. Paul himself said, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man” (1 Tim. 1:13).; but because of his experience of God’s love and mercy, he realized that he was small and he has nothing to boast in front of God. Thus, he chose the name “Paul” which actually means “small” or “humble”. At least three times in his letters, St. Paul emphasized, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17; Gal. 4:14). He also said, “God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:28-29). Based on his experiences and hardships, St. Paul teachers us to remain humble in all that we do. To boast in the Lord, and not for self. After all, he himself said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). Without Christ, he can do nothing.

San Pedro de Macati and San Pablo de Macati | Photos by Angelo Mangahas

Let us pray.

O Glorious St. Peter, because of your vibrant and generous faith, sincere humility and flaming love our Lord honored you with singular privileges and especially leadership of the whole Church. Obtain for us the grace of a living faith, a sincere loyalty to the Church, acceptance of all her teachings, and obedience to all her precepts. Let us thus enjoy an undisturbed peace on earth and everlasting happiness in heaven. Amen.

O Glorious St. Paul, after persecuting the Church you became by God's grace its most zealous Apostle. To carry the knowledge of Jesus, our divine Savior, to the uttermost parts of the earth you joyfully endured prison, scourging, stoning, and shipwreck, as well as all manner of persecutions culminating in the shedding of the last drop of your blood for our Lord Jesus Christ. Obtain for us the grace to labor strenuously to bring the faith to others and to accept any trials and tribulations that may come our way. Help us to be inspired by your Epistles and to partake of your indomitable love for Jesus, so that after we have finished our course, we may join you in praising him in heaven for all eternity. Amen.

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us!

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