I love the feast of SS Peter and Paul. The stories offered to us on the 29th June are prison stories, one in Jerusalem the other in Rome. Read them and reflect (Acts 12:1-11 and 2 Timothy 6:6-8. 17-18). Indeed, they are powerful.
Peter guarded, watched, bound in chains, sadly reminiscent of the experience of many a captive and hostage. In the story Peter is presented as at ease with the situation, asleep in fact, and as in a dream the chains fall from his hands, the doors open, his guards utterly unaware of what’s happening and he walks free. Did it really happen? Or Are we offered a profound insight into the nature of the Church at its best. The truth that nothing, not even being tied down, watched, guarded and chained, similar to the story of the Gerasene Demoniac, can stop the good news of the Gospel from being preached and lived. A sign that we as members of the Church should never out of fear attempt to tie down, bind, chain, watch or silence those with whom we might disagree.
Paul also in prison, awaiting execution, totally free in himself, reminiscent of some of the greats of our world, people who have the ability to put terror into me, at any rate. Free people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, St Thomas Moore, Dorothy Day, Edith Stein, Nelson Mandela and others: Those who hold up the possibility of internal freedom, of being truly human. Those who force me to look deep into myself and recognise the compromises, rationalisations and half truths I hide behind. Who make me wonder if there is any other way to achieve that kind of freedom than the way of the Cross. The image of Jesus on the Cross hands stretched out, blaming no one, holding all, compassionate to the end, forgiving and reconciling all comes to mind and is echoed in Paul and those other greats of our world. For myself I find a tendency to find fault and blame, though at my best, I know that it shows a lack of true freedom.
My own favourite stories of Peter and Paul are:
A) Peter on the Via Appia running away from the persecutions and meeting the Risen Christ on his way into the city. The great question Quo Vadis (Where are you going?) resulting in Peter’s return to the city of persecution and solidarity with the suffering where in fact he becomes the Rock wherein the Church and even the Vatican are built. A legend certainly but then again legends are profound conveyors of truth, like grass through concrete, they never quite go away and haunt the imagination. Where are you going? – a great question for anyone involved in the RCIA.
B) Paul responding to Peter’s compromise with the more traditional group of Jewish Christians operating as he was out of fear as described in the Letter to the Galatians 2:11-14. “I opposed him to his face”. In our terms serious debate and strongly held views are to be encouraged and treasured in a search for what is genuinely true and authentic:- A model for Church and Parish and Society!
Ah yes! Peter and Paul you invite us to listen to the words which are found around 365 times in the Bible “Do not be afraid” and not just to listen to them but to allow them to find a home within the heart.