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"Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam"

Updated: Jul 15, 2023

Homily of His Excellency the Most Rev. Charles John Brown D.D.,

Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines

Pope's Day Mass on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

June 29, 2023 | Manila Cathedral

Your Eminence Jose Cardinal Advincula, Your Excellency, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, my brother bishops who have come from near and far, bishops of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference, distinguished ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps, priests, consecrated women, and men, lay faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, it is truly a joy and a privilege for me to be with you at this evening's Pope's Day Mass.

This liturgy, which we traditionally celebrate each June 29th, in the splendid and beautiful cathedral of the Archdiocese of Manila, on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the apostles of the City of Rome.

Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam. "You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my Church."

These are the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew, which we have just heard in our liturgy this evening. They recount the choice of the Lord to make St. Peter the leader of the apostles and the foundation upon which the community of believers in Christ, the community that we call the Church, would be built. That community of believers has existed for more than two millennia and continues in our own time under the pastoral care of His Holiness Pope Francis.

Our feast day today, however, also commemorates another saint, a second saint martyred in Rome in the same historical moment. St. Paul, the great missionary of the gospel, St. Paul, who after the death and resurrection of the Lord traveled throughout the Mediterranean region announcing the gift of salvation in Christ.

In our second reading for mass today, we hear St. Paul's words addressed to his missionary companion, St. Timothy, in which St. Paul expresses his intuition, his premonition, his feeling that his time to leave this world was fast approaching.

In the traditional English rendering of his words, St. Paul says, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." In our modern translation, "I have competed well, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." The very well-known English phrase "to fight the good fight" comes from this source.

Indeed, both St. Peter and St. Paul fought the good fight and they finished their race as martyrs in Rome, put to death for their faith during the persecution unleashed by the Emperor Nero, after the disastrous fire in Rome in the year 64.

According to the ancient Catholic tradition, St. Peter was martyred by being crucified upside down, while St. Paul was beheaded by an executioner's sword. This is how they finished their race. But of course, for us as Christians, finishing the race in this world does not mean coming to the end but rather arriving at a new beginning.

As the American poet TS Eliot had written for the place where he would be buried his grave marker in England, he wrote, "In my end, is my beginning."

For us as believers in the resurrected Lord, death is not the end but the beginning. Indeed, in Latin, the term for the day of the death of a saint is his or her dies natalis, the day of birth, his or her birthday, into the life of the next world.

As St. Paul also writes in the reading which we have heard this evening, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom." We as Christians, confess the reality of this new beginning in the words of the Nicene Constantinopolan Creed, as we will do in a few minutes this evening, "We believe in the life of the World to Come."

The last thing we confess in the Creed, a beautiful and evocative phrase - "the life of the world to come," which sums up what it means to be a follower of the one who said in front of Pontius Pilate, "My Kingdom is not of this world." And we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, "Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come."

But of course, this hope, this desire to be brought safely into that beautiful heavenly kingdom, to be born into the life of the world to come, does not imply, in any way, a lack of respect for the realities of this present world. Contrary to the classic criticism of Christianity as a kind of opium of the people, which proposes a future kingdom so that people will tolerate their oppression in this current world, the Christian Faith sees the realities of this world as of great importance also because they lead us to eternity. Both this world and the life of the world to come inspire the actions of Christians.

In fact, this is a remarkable aspect of the Christian faith: the ability to hold in a kind of balance, realities which might appear at first sight to be incompatible with each other or even contradictory. We believe that Jesus Christ is true God and true man; we believe that Our Lady is Virgin and Mother; we believe that our salvation is achieved through faith, and good works, good deeds; we honor the vocation; we respect the vocation to marriage and to celibacy. And similarly, we believe in the importance of this world and the importance of the world to come.

For Christians, it's not a matter of either/or, but always have both. And for this reason, the Second Vatican Council warns us that while "It profits nothing for a man if he gains the whole world and loses himself," the expectation of a New Earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one, this world. For here in this world grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the New Age."

That element of both/and rather than either/or, the importance of heaven and earth is evident in the Catholic Church's social doctrine, social teaching, especially as it has been proposed and taught by the popes over the last 130 years.

It's not an accident, brothers and sisters, that here in Manila, in the old session hall of the Philippine Senate, where senators sat and legislated from 1926 to 1996, and which now is in the National Museum of Fine Arts, there is a statue of Pope Leo the XIII. Pope Leo XIII, who I might note, became Nuncio to Belgium before he was 33 years old, very young. He can be considered the Father of the Church's Modern Social Teaching as Pope. It was he who, as Pope, published the Encyclical Letter on capital and labor on workers' rights, entitled Rerum Novarum in 1891.

This prophetic document, as Pope Francis has pointed out, came from the conviction that the gospel message may not be relegated only to a part of man or a part of society, but rather speaks to all of man to make him evermore human.

The publication of Rerum Novarum in 1891 began a long series of interventions of the popes on various social issues, a series which is continued in our own time by Pope Francis with his encyclical letters, Laudato Si on care for the natural environment as our common home and Fratelli Tutti on fraternity and social friendship. In the teachings of Pope Francis, part of fighting the good fight and running the race for us as Christians in the third millennium involves "the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations."

It is an injustice to the people who come after us, who will come after us if we leave them an environment which has been irreparably damaged and degraded by pollution. And similarly, there is the question of international relations, justice, and peace. Pope Francis writes in Fratelli Tutti that "...if we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and peoples."

To this end, the Pope writes, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation, and arbitration as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes, the Pope says, truly a fundamental juridical norm. These words, brothers and sisters, are especially true today.

And so my friends in Christ gathered together in this cathedral dedicated to Our Lady's Immaculate Conception, allow me to conclude by turning to her under her ancient title, as the Salus Populi Romani, protectress of the people of Rome, of the city of Rome. Let us pray to her, to Our Lady for Pope Francis on this feast day, that is, pray for the Church, in the city of Rome and throughout the entire world. And let us, brothers and sisters, also pray for peace, for peace in these days. May God bless you.

Transcribed by Gel Katalbas

photos from the Manila Cathedral Facebook page

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