Today is the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles.
Yesterday, at St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, the Pope formally declared 2008 to be a "Pauline Year." The CNS coverage is here. The Vatican Radio report here.You can read a translation of the homily here, by scrolling down.
He was chosen ‘to announce the gospel of God’ (Rom 1,1), to propagate the announcement of the Divine Grace which, in Christ, reconciles man with God, with himself and with his fellowmen.
From his letters, we know that Paul was anything but a skillful speaker – he shared with Moses and Jeremiah a lack of oratorical talent. "His physical presence is weak and his voice is unassuming" (2 Cor 10,10), his adversaries said of him.
The extraordinary apostolic results he obtained were therefore not due to brilliant rhetoric nor to refined apologetic and missionary strategies. The success of his apostolate depended above all on a personal involvement in announcing the Gospel with total dedication to Christ, a dedication that had no fear of risks, difficulties or persecution.
"Neither death, nor life," he wrote to the Romans, "nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (8,38-39).
From this, we can draw a lesson that is important to every Christian. The action of the Church is credible and effective only to the degree in which those who are part of it are willing to pay in the flesh for their loyalty to Jesus in very situation. Where such willingness is lacking, it diminishes the decisive argument for truth on which the Church itself depends.
Dear brothers and sisters, as at the beginning, even today, Christ needs apostles who are ready to sacrifice themselves. He needs witnesses and martyrs like St. Paul: once a violent persecutor of Christians, on the road to Damascus, he was struck down blind by divine light, and he passed right on to the cause of the Crucified One without hesitation or looking back. He lived and worked for Christ; for Him he suffered and died. How relevant is his example today!
And because of this, I am happy to announce officially that we will dedicate to the Apostle Paul a special Jubilee Year from June 28, 2008 to June 29, 2009, on the bimillenary of his birth, thought to have been between 7 and 10 A.C.
Here are some excerpts from the General Audience talks Pope Benedict gave on the two last year.
The Gospels enable us to follow Peter step by step on his spiritual journey. The starting point was Jesus’ call. It happened on an ordinary day while Peter was busy with his fisherman’s tasks. Jesus was at the Lake of Gennesaret and crowds had gathered around him to listen to him. The size of his audience created a certain discomfort. The Teacher saw two boats moored by the shore; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. He then asked permission to board the boat, which was Simon’s, and requested him to put out a little from the land. Sitting on that improvised seat, he began to teach the crowds from the boat (cf. Lk 5: 1-3). Thus, the boat of Peter becomes the chair of Jesus.
When he had finished speaking he said to Simon: "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch". And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets" (Lk 5: 4-5). Jesus, a carpenter, was not a skilled fisherman: yet Simon the fisherman trusted this Rabbi, who did not give him answers but required him to trust him.
His reaction to the miraculous catch showed his amazement and fear: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Lk 5: 8). Jesus replied by inviting him to trust and to be open to a project that would surpass all his expectations. "Do not be afraid; henceforth, you will be catching men" (Lk 5: 10). Peter could not yet imagine that one day he would arrive in Rome and that here he would be a "fisher of men" for the Lord. He accepted this surprising call, he let himself be involved in this great adventure: he was generous; he recognized his limits but believed in the one who was calling him and followed the dream of his heart. He said "yes", a courageous and generous "yes", and became a disciple of Jesus.
Here, like at Caesarea, Peter begins with his words the confession of the Church’s Christological faith and becomes spokesman also for the other Apostles, and of we believers of all times. This does not mean that he had already understood the mystery of Christ in all its depth; his faith was still at the beginning of a journey of faith. It would reach its true fullness only through the experience of the Paschal events.
Nonetheless, it was already faith, open to the greatest reality; open especially because it was not faith in something, it was faith in Someone: in him, Christ.
And so, our faith too is always an initial one and we have still to carry out a great journey. But it is essential that it is an open faith and that we allow ourselves to be led by Jesus, because he does not only know the Way, but he is the Way.
Peter’s rash generosity does not protect him, however, from the risks connected with human weakness. Moreover, it is what we too can recognize in our own lives. Peter followed Jesus with enthusiasm, he overcame the trial of faith, abandoning himself to Christ. The moment comes, however, when he gives in to fear and falls: he betrays the Master (cf. Mk 14: 66-72).
The school of faith is not a triumphal march but a journey marked daily by suffering and love, trials and faithfulness. Peter, who promised absolute fidelity, knew the bitterness and humiliation of denial: the arrogant man learns the costly lesson of humility. Peter, too, must learn that he is weak and in need of forgiveness.
Once his attitude changes and he understands the truth of his weak heart of a believing sinner, he weeps in a fit of liberating repentance. After this weeping he is finally ready for his mission.
In themselves, the three metaphors that Jesus uses are crystal clear: Peter will be the rocky foundation on which he will build the edifice of the Church; he will have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to open or close it to people as he sees fit; lastly, he will be able to bind or to loose, in the sense of establishing or prohibiting whatever he deems necessary for the life of the Church. It is always Christ’s Church, not Peter’s.
Henceforth, all that had constituted for him a value paradoxically became, according to his words, a loss and refuse (cf. Phil 3: 7-10). And from that moment all his energy was placed at the exclusive service of Jesus Christ and his Gospel. His existence would become that of an Apostle who wants to "become all things to all men" (I Cor 9: 22) without reserve.
From here we draw a very important lesson: what counts is to place Jesus Christ at the centre of our lives, so that our identity is marked essentially by the encounter, by communion with Christ and with his Word. In his light every other value is recovered and purified from possible dross.
We must fit all this into our daily lives by following the example of Paul, who always lived with this great spiritual range. Besides, faith must constantly express humility before God, indeed, adoration and praise.
Indeed, it is to him and his grace alone that we owe what we are as Christians. Since nothing and no one can replace him, it is necessary that we pay homage to nothing and no one else but him. No idol should pollute our spiritual universe or otherwise, instead of enjoying the freedom acquired, we will relapse into a humiliating form of slavery.
Moreover, our radical belonging to Christ and the fact that "we are in him" must imbue in us an attitude of total trust and immense joy. In short, we must indeed exclaim with St Paul: "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Rom 8: 31). And the reply is that nothing and no one "will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8: 39). Our Christian life, therefore, stands on the soundest and safest rock one can imagine. And from it we draw all our energy, precisely as the Apostle wrote: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Phil 4: 13).
Therefore, let us face our life with its joys and sorrows supported by these great sentiments that Paul offers to us. By having an experience of them we will realize how true are the words the Apostle himself wrote: "I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me"; in other words, until the Day (II Tm 1: 12) of our definitive meeting with Christ the Judge, Saviour of the world and our Saviour.
Thus, in short, a relationship of communion is at stake: the so to speak vertical communion between Jesus Christ and all of us, but also the horizontal communion between all who are distinguished in the world by the fact that they "call on the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor 1: 2).
This is our definition: we belong among those who call on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we clearly understand how desirable it is that what Paul himself was hoping for when he wrote to the Corinthians should come to pass: "If an unbeliever or an uninitiated enters while all are uttering prophecy, he will be taken to task by all and called to account by all, and the secret of his heart will be laid bare. Falling prostrate, he will worship God, crying out, "God is truly among you’" (I Cor 14: 24-25).
Our liturgical encounters should be like this. A non-Christian who enters one of our assemblies ought finally to be able to say: "God is truly with you". Let us pray to the Lord to be like this, in communion with Christ and in communion among ourselves.