Sunday, June 29, 2014

Homily for Sts. Peter & Paul

Homily for the Solemnity
of Sts. Peter & Paul
June 29, 2014
Acts 12: 1-11
2 Tim 4: 6-8, 17-18
Matt 16: 13-19
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“The Lord will rescue me form every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim 4: 18).

The 1st two readings this morning both have our apostles, Peter and Paul, in jail.  Peter has been arrested by King Herod, who intends to try and execute him, as he’s already done to the apostle James.  Paul is in prison in Rome, writing to his disciple Timothy, expecting that he’ll soon be put to death.

Herod’s plans were upset when Peter was miraculously set free, and he escaped, to go on with his preaching of the Gospel, eventually traveling to Rome and making it his HQ, his apostolic residence or “see.”  Therefore all the bishops of Rome, right up to Pope Francis, are regarded as Peter’s successors, holding the same apostolic authority that Peter did, and Rome is called “the Apostolic See.”  Paul’s anticipation of martyrdom was indeed fulfilled, altho we don’t know how soon after his letter to Timothy.

St. Peter on his episcopal chair,
modeled on statue in St. Peter's, Rome
(Sts. Peter & Paul, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.)
Peter’s authority as an apostle comes from Jesus, as we heard in the gospel.  Christ’s Church, tho made up of human beings like us, is not a human institution.  It’s founded by Christ, and Christ is the guarantor that the Church, out of all the institutions on earth, out of all the philosophies, theologies, and other opinions on earth, only the Church is our sure guide to salvation.  “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus tells Peter, “and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against my Church” (16:19,18).  The netherworld, hades in Greek, is the world of death, hence the realm of the Prince of Darkness (on whom Voldemort, the Dark Lord of Harry Potter, is apparently based).

Jesus’ promise of the Church’s ultimate victory over Satan and over death is foreshadowed by Peter’s deliverance from jail in our 1st reading and by Paul’s great confidence that, altho he may be executed because of his preaching, yet “the Lord stood by me” and “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth” (2 Tim 4:16).  The lion isn’t the Emperor Nero, who finally did put Paul to the sword and crucify Peter, but the devil, who, as St. Peter says in one of his letters, roams about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8).

Altho the holy apostles faced discrimination and death on account of their allegiance to Jesus, they were confident that God would deliver them.  The deliverance they looked for was the same sort that Jesus himself experienced:  “the gates of the netherworld—the world of the dead—[did] not prevail” over him.  Jesus rose triumphantly from death, delivered by the power of God.  Peter and Paul anticipated a similar victory over death and all the power of Satan.  They were confident of being brought safely to the heavenly kingdom where Jesus reigns.

So are we confident, brothers and sisters.  The prayer of the psalm today is our prayer:  “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them” (34:5,8).  As members of Christ’s Catholic Church, as faithful followers of Jesus, we are confident that God forgives us the sins we repent of (“whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”—Matt 16:19) and will raise us to eternal life with Jesus.

"Permanent" flame for the Holy Year 2009
in front of St. Paul's statue
St. Paul Outside the Walls, Rome

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