The church of Rome considers Peter and Paul her founders. They came to the city and preached and died there during the persecution by Nero in the early 60s. Their burial places, marked by great churches, St. Peter at the Vatican and St. Paul Outside the Walls, are among the treasures of the city.
They could not be more unlike: Paul, the educated Pharisee from Tarsus, who came late to Christianity and like a runner raced from place to place in the Roman world to plant the faith. In the end, he believed God would give him “a crown of righteousness” for his mighty efforts.
Peter, the fisherman from Galilee, was named by Jesus the Rock on whom he would build his church. He denied Jesus three times and then was called by Jesus three times to shepherd the flock. Warily, he went to Caesarea to baptize a Roman soldier, Cornelius. Then, he went to the gentile cities of Antioch and Rome to tell the story of the One he had seen with his own eyes.
We ask for Paul’s zealous faith to bring the gospel to the world before us, and Peter’s deep love for Jesus Christ which he voiced at the Sea of Galilee and at his preaching and death.
St. Augustine commented on this feast and on the threefold call Jesus made to Peter. Jesus called three times to conquer the apostle’s “self-assurance.”
“Quite rightly, too, did the Lord after his resurrection entrust his sheep to Peter to be fed. Not that he alone was fit to feed the Lord’s sheep, but when Christ speaks to one, he calls us to be one. And he first speaks to Peter, because Peter is the first among the apostles.
“Do not be sad, Peter. Answer once, answer again, answer a third time. Let confession conquer three times with love, because your self-assurance was conquered three times by fear. What you had bound three times must be loosed three times. Loose through love what you had bound through fear. And for all that, the Lord once, and again, and a third time, entrusted his sheep to Peter.”
“Today we celebrate the the passion of two apostles. These two were as one; although they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, Paul followed. We are celebrating a feast day consecrated for us by the blood of the apostles. Let us love their faith, their lives, their labors, their sufferings, their confession of faith, their preaching.”
“May your church in all things
follow the teaching of those
through whom she has received
the beginning of right religion.”