|SAINT PETER, Apostle, the first patron of our parish, was Jesus’ choice to lead the early Church and become the first pope. Every Catholic hears about Peter many times throughout the liturgical year from the reading of the Gospels and from the Acts of the Apostles. Matthew’s Gospel gives him special status, and from Mark, who was probably an interpreter for Peter in Rome, in his Gospel, Peter’s preaching and lessons about Jesus can be learned. Luke reveals more of St. Peter through Acts. He is the dominant figure among all the disciples of Jesus in the New Testament.
Peter was a fisherman from Capernaum, a village on the Sea of Galilee. He was son of Jonah (or John) and brother of Andrew. Trained by his father in fishing, he was probably in a fishing partnership with Zebedee and his two sons, James and John. He was married, and his wife probably was a traveling partner (1 Cor 9:5). Acts tells us that he was quite the opposite of Paul in that he was a common man, uneducated. His appearances in the New Testament record many different pictures of him: a brave and bold man who would even attempt walking to his Lord on the water, obedient to the Holy Spirit in proclaiming Jesus the Christ, yet a man whom Jesus called a “Satan” when he objected to the revelation of the Passion, someone who wanted to remain on the mountain of Tabor basking in Jesus’ glory. He boasts of loyalty and defense of Jesus, yet denies Him and runs away, only to repent and cry for forgiveness, which Jesus gives even before He sees him after the Resurrection. Jesus Himself tells Peter that He has prayed for Peter to be strengthened. Paul recognizes Peter’s special position among the Apostles of Jesus as one of final authority and special choice of Jesus.
Simon is Peter’s original name when Jesus calls him away from fishing as a trade, telling him he will fish for men instead. Later on, Jesus will commission him as head of the Church in response to the revelation of the Holy Spirit to Peter of who Jesus is. Simon confesses in answer to Jesus that He is: “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:17). Christ replies: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:17-18).
As leader of the infant Church, Peter’s history is recorded in Acts. He speaks for all the disciples and apostles on the first Pentecost, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, which was promised by Jesus. He was a missionary, a judge and a mediator in the early years of Christianity. He effects the replacement of Judas, eliminates the need for Gentiles for circumcision, and speaks out against applying the strict food rules of the Jews to Jesus’ disciples. He baptizes the first Gentile family, Cornelius’ household, into the Church. His imprisonment, escape, travels, and preaching’s are all recording in the New Testament gospels, Acts, as well as two epistles ascribed to him, 1 and 2 Peter. Peter was in great demand in the early Christian communities; Acts reports that, in the name of Christ he heals the sick, and many are eager just to have his shadow fall on them (Acts 3:6; 5:15).
Together with St. Paul, St. Peter is responsible for the astonishing rise of the Christian faith and the baptism of thousands of converts immediately after the Ascension of Jesus. His recorded travels from Jerusalem include Lydda, Joppa, and Caesarea. Tradition tells that he probably also went to Corinth. In the Epistle to the Galatians (2:11), Paul records that he and Peter ate together with the church at Antioch. Ancient historians also tell of Peter’s travel to Rome, founding a church there, possibly with Saint Paul, and his crucifixion and death there. Rome was where he set the center of the Catholic Church, moving it from Antioch. For centuries, the faithful believed that Peter’s tomb had been under the high altar in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. Excavations in this century have confirmed this belief.
Far from being unapproachable, Peter is a very human saint, a saint for all humankind. Not in awe of his intelligence or energy or strength or purity, the faithful respond to the overwhelming sense of humility and the graces which filled his soul. Peter appeals to most people because he is so much like themselves, having brave words, good intentions, but more than ample fear and many failures. Still, he is an ardent lover of God in Jesus Christ. Even when Jesus reprimands him and calls him a “Satan”, Peter continues to follow our Lord. Peter knows himself as many Christians might wish to: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man., O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Honest, courageous, wholehearted is his commitment, Peter knows there is no where else to go but to Jesus (John 6:69). It is this honesty that saves him from the despair that takes Judas. It is this honesty in his love of Christ that makes Peter the choice of Jesus as first vicar and holy martyr for His young Church.
|SAINT PAUL, the second patron of our parish, is the pre-eminent “apostle to the Gentiles” of the New Testament. Because the first Christians were few in number, everyone of them were missionaries, but Saint Paul had the zeal and eloquence that took the pagans by storm with the baptism and teachings of Jesus Christ. He received the name Saul from Jewish parents, who were also Roman citizens in Tarsus, capital of Cilicia in Asia Minor. He was a member of the strictest Jewish sects, the Pharisees, and he received not only an education in rigid Pharisaic teachings, but also a Greek education as well. He was a student of Gamaliel about 30 A.D. in Jerusalem, but had probably finished studies and returned home by the time Christ began His public life. He was trained as well in tent-making, his father’s occupation. Paul was not only brilliant and well educated, he was filled with energy. In his zeal and energy, he began persecuting the early believers of Jesus for their lack of fidelity to Jewish orthodoxy. He saw them as corrupters of the true religion and wanted them wiped out. He is mentioned in the New Testament as watching and approving of the stoning of Saint Stephen, the first martyr of the early Catholic Church.
He reports his attitude and practice himself in Acts of the Apostles: “. . . I then thought it my duty to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth . . . . many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests to do so; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them; and oftentimes in all the synagogues I punished them and tried to force them to blaspheme; and in my extreme rage against them I even pursued them to foreign cities ” (Acts 26:9-11).
Saul would arrest Christians in these other cities and bring them back to trial in Jerusalem before the Sanhedrin. On his way to one of those cities, Damascus, to continue his goal of wiping out Christians, Paul was thrown from his horse and experienced a personal encounter with the risen Jesus, Who told him to continue into Damascus and wait for instructions. Following three days of blindness and a meeting with a holy Christian named Ananias, Paul was baptized Christian himself and then lived in the desert of Arabia in prayer and preparation for some three years.
When Saul returned to Damascus to preach his new faith three years later, his former Jewish and Pharisaical friends tried to kill him for his traitorous change of heart. His escape from the city was through new Christian friends letting him down over the wall of the city in a basket. Saul then traveled to Jerusalem and became a student again, this time of Peter and the other Apostles there. He committed to memory many of the sayings of Jesus and details about His life. He also absorbed the principles and practices of living in Christian community. Although Paul tried to preach to the Jews in Jerusalem, he was unsuccessful in turning aside their thoughts of vengeance against him. He returned to his home in Tarsus for quiet, prayer, and contemplation. Far from wasted time, this period solidified his deep understandings of the mystery of Christ. His would be an influence on Christianity of immense and lasting value.
After another visit to Jerusalem, he spent the next ten years (A.D.38 – 48) on his first missionary journey to parts of Syria and Asia Minor. He had come to Antioch at the request of Barnabas from where he set out. Paul began to use his Roman name about this same time. In A.D. 48, Paul was part of a group sent back to Jerusalem to discuss the relationship between Gentile and Jewish Christians.
Paul spent eight more years establishing churches in the eastern Mediterranean area, traveling with various others, including St. Barnabas, St. Mark, and St. Luke. He visited the major places in Phoenicia, Asia Minor, Greece, and Macedonia. Paul’s central point in Greece during his second journey was Corinth (A.D. 49-52), and in Asia Minor during his third was Ephesus (A.D. 53-57). His intelligence and energy led him to adopt a certain style. He almost always confronted religious leaders, often in the synagogue, and boldly told the story and requirements of Christ to them. He was often punished: whipped, expelled from the city, or stoned. However, his preaching made hundreds of conversions and founded many hardy Christian communities. He also preached to Gentiles, agreeing with Peter’s edict at the Council of Jerusalem to release Gentiles from the Jewish Law. Paul wrote letters during all of these journeys which form a good portion of the New Testament.
In 57, ending his third journey in Jerusalem, Paul was again in reach of the Sanhedrin. He was arrested and would have been put to death, but he appealed to Caesar as his Roman citizenship would allow. Roman officials sent him to Rome, where he was kept under house arrest and where he preached to all who came to him. Then he was released. Tradition tells us that he traveled again, this time to Spain, and that he visited again all the churches he had established. When he returned to Rome, sometime between A.D. 62 and 67, he was arrested and beheaded during the persecution of Emperor Nero.