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St. Peter, Rebuilt by God

Homily of H.E. Most Rev. Charles John Brown D.D., Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines

Solemn Blessing of the Church and Enshrinement

of the Holy Relics of Saints Peter and Paul

February 18, 2023 | St. Peter the Apostle Parish, Apalit, Pampanga

“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16:18-19).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ here in Apalit in Pampanga:

It gives me so much joy as your Apostolic Nuncio to be with you this morning, for this Thanksgiving Mass, giving gratitude to God for the successful restoration of your beautiful Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Church, and in the enshrinement, the enthronement of these relics of Saint Peter and Paul which we will be doing shortly.

I'm very grateful to the Most Rev. Florentino G. Lavarias, D.D., Archbishop of San Fernando; also, Archbishop-Emeritus, the Most Rev. Paciano B. Aniceto, D.D.; your wonderful parish priest Msgr. Antonio M. Bustos, for having invited me to celebrate this Mass this morning; and I greet my brother bishops who are here. Some of whom were with me yesterday for the ordination of a new Bishop in Quezon City. It's wonderful to see my brother bishops here this morning. I greet the priests of the Archdiocese of San Fernando. I greet the deacons, the sisters, brothers, and all of you, the lay faithful. Some of whom I know some of whom are my friends. It gives me, as I said, so much happiness to be here this morning with you for this wonderful Mass.

When we look at this church, we see the glory of our Catholic faith. Don't we? This beautifully renovated church. When I walked in the procession, my breath was almost taken away by the magnificent restoration. Let me take this opportunity to thank everyone who participated in the restoration; and I’m sure there are countless and very generous benefactors who helped make this happen, this beautiful church.

An Image of Our Spiritual Lives

We heard at the beginning of Mass the history of your church. Built more than 400 years ago by the Spanish Friars, and then destroyed in an earthquake, rebuilt, and then more recently, damaged, and restored. That history is so beautiful. It's a history of this Temple of God, here in Apalit; but it's kind of a symbol also: building, destruction, rebuilding, damage, restoration. It's an image of our spiritual lives. What has happened over these more than 400 years here in Apalit, in your beautiful Church of Saint Peter the Apostle is an image of what happens in our lives of faith: building, sometimes destruction, damage, restoration.

Restoring the Destroyed Peter

We see it in the life of your patron, St. Peter himself. He was chosen and called by the Lord. We see it in the beautiful window above the door, here in the transept of the church: the call of Peter by the Lord. He was chosen by the Lord. Then we heard in our Gospel today (Mt 16:13-20), how Peter, who was the spokesperson for the apostles, who says when he's asked about who do people say that Jesus is, he says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Saint Peter is the spokesperson, the leader of the apostles. But this dynamic of building, and then damage and restoration, we see it in life of Saint Peter. Because Saint Peter, the one who confessed that Jesus is the Christ, our dear Saint Peter is also the one who on Good Friday will deny Jesus three times saying “I don't know who this person is. I have nothing to do with him” (cf. Mt. 26:69-75). He is the apostle who was too frightened to be at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified. Only Saint John, traditionally the youngest apostle, was there with Mary Magdalene and Our Lady, the Mother of Jesus Christ; but St. Peter ran away. He was too afraid; he was too frightened. His fate disintegrated at that moment. It was like an earthquake destroying his faith and trust in the Lord. He was so ashamed of himself that he wept. He wept (Lk. 22:62).

We have to be rebuilt, restored like your church, by Jesus. Which happens after the resurrection (Jn. 21:15-19). When Jesus meets him, and Jesus asks him “Peter do you love me?” Jesus says it to him three times. It's interesting. Saint Augustine tells us that Jesus asked him three times so that Peter could make up three times for his three denials. Jesus comes to Peter. Peter who is broken. Peter who is ashamed. Peter who has denied the Lord. Jesus says, “Do you love me?” Peter says, “Yes. You know that I love you.” [Jesus replied] “Feed my sheep.” Three times. The Lord's restoring the destroyed Peter. Rebuilding Peter. Then Peter is totally transformed by that experience of restoration. He's totally made new.

What does Peter do? The one who was too afraid, at the foot of the cross, when Jesus was crucified by the Roman soldiers. Where does Peter decide to go to bring the messenger Jesus? The last place you would think he would go: Rome. It was the Romans who killed Jesus, who put Him to death on Calvary, and yet, Peter, restored by Jesus, built up by Jesus, filled with the light of Jesus goes to Rome to speak about Jesus to the Romans. Especially to the Jewish community that was there in Rome in those days, and is still there today.

Completely the opposite of what one would think a fearful man would do, but he has been restored by the Lord. There in Rome he preaches about Jesus. He converts people to the faith. The tradition is he sent the Evangelist Saint Mark to the city of which I am the Titular Archbishop, the City of Aquileia in Northern Italy. Peter sent Mark up there in Northern Italy, baptized the first Bishop of Aquileia, and brought him down to Rome to be ordained a bishop by Saint Peter. That is the tradition. The city in Northern Italy of which I am the Titular Archbishop: Aquileia.

The Second Restoration of St. Peter

Then in the year 64, there was a terrible tragedy in Rome. It seems that Peter had probably been there for 20 or 30 years. Teaching, leading as the first Bishop of Rome, the first Pope. Leading the people, instructing the faith; and a terrible tragedy happens: a terrible fire devastates Rome. The evil Roman Emperor at the time, Nero, needed someone to blame for this fire. Who did he choose? He chose the Christians, the small group of believers. This small group, they blamed them for the fire. People say that maybe Nero himself had set the fire. We don't know. It was blamed on the Christians; and a terrible persecution began. Christians were rounded up and began to be put to death.

Peter who had been restored by Christ after denying him, Peter, brothers and sisters, once again wavers. He gets scared again. The tradition is, this is not in the gospel, but it's the Catholic tradition. That Peter began to leave Rome, to get away, to save himself from the persecution. He has gone to one of the roads leading to Rome, the famous Via Appia, and he sees a figure coming towards Rome, entering Rome. While Peter was fleeing Rome, leaving Rome, and he sees a figure coming. He sees that the figure is Jesus; and he says in Latin, “Domine, quo vadis?” “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus says “I'm going to Rome to be crucified again.” At that moment, Saint Peter, who had denied Jesus in the past and then restored, is filled with a new courage, a new found faith. He's built up a second time. He's restored the second time like your church. Restored the second time, he turns around, and he goes back to Rome from the Via Appia. There he is crucified. Peter. Tradition has it that he is crucified upside down, with his head down and his feet up. Which you see in a beautiful image and the ceiling of your restored church, the first one when you enter on your left: the image of the crucifixion of Saint Peter.

So, Saint Peter who wavered, whose faith disintegrated, and then was rebuilt. This happened more than once in his life, but at the end, when he's crucified upside down, surely, he had the words of Saint Paul (who was also put to death in Rome) in his mind, “The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:6-7).

Renovation in Our Own Lives and Faith

Brothers and sisters: your church is an image of that restoration. St. Peter is an example of that restoration. You know? All of us, crowded here in Apalit, in this beautiful church this morning to celebrate the successful renovation, in our own lives the same thing happens. We waiver at times. We get scared at times. We might even deny the Lord at times by our sin, but remember: the Lord is always there to receive you back. Never be afraid to turn around, the way St. Peter did on the Via Appia, and come back to Jesus; and say, “Lord I have sinned.” He will forgive you, because He loves you, He created you, He gave you the Catholic faith, He wants you to be with Him forever in heavenly glory.

So, all of these ideas in our minds this morning, as we rejoice in this splendidly renovated church, we pray for all of those who worked on the renovation, we pray, as I said already, for the benefactors of the renovation.

We ask the Lord to give us the courage of Saint Peter. That when we stumble, when we fall, when we falter, we will have the humility to go back to the Lord.

To receive His grace, perhaps in the Sacrament of Confession, to be rebuilt, restored, remade by Him. He is always there for us. We placed all of these petitions underneath the feet of Our Lady, who is in the highest place in your Church, which is so beautiful, Our Lady the Mother of God, asking her to intercede for us, asking her to pray for us, asking her to show us her Son Jesus.

May God bless you!

Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo

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