Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
—Matthew 16:16–18

Considering the fact that they often disagreed in life, it’s funny that Peter and Paul now share a feast day. However, despite their differing personalities, their stories have much in common. Both Peter and Paul were beacons of the early Church, instrumental in evangelization and leadership. Both gave their lives as martyrs, sowing the seed of the Church. And both underwent radical conversions after personal encounters with Christ.

Peter’s story in the Gospels is one of constantly trying, failing, and persevering. He is somewhat of a hapless apostle, trying to please Jesus but constantly making mistakes in the process. His sincere love for Jesus is fully apparent, alongside his flawed humanity, and through this combination he models for us how to fall upon the great mercy of God. If someone like Peter can not only be forgiven for his denial and betrayal of Jesus but also be named the first pope—well, then there’s hope for all of us, isn’t there?

Roman_School,_circa_1620_Saints_Peter_and_PaulPaul has perhaps the most famous conversion story of all time, the dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus. He too is a prime example of a flawed saint; before Jesus dramatically intervened, Paul was literally murdering Christians. Not a typical path to holiness. But Jesus took even that unlikely path and redirected it toward sainthood. Paul always recognized that it was only through God’s grace that he was able to carry out his good works; he had no illusions of his own inherent goodness.

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well; I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith…
The Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me the proclamation might be completed
and all the Gentiles might hear it.
—2 Timothy 4:6–7, 17

St._Paul_Visiting_St._Peter_in_PrisonPaul poured himself out until he was empty, an open vessel in which Christ could dwell. It was then that God’s grace worked in him most fully, supplying him with a transcendent strength to persevere in his mission. The words Jesus once spoke to Peter apply to Paul, too: “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” Peter and Paul both found their strength in weakness, by being receptive to divine revelation, allowing God to take control. Peter was particularly changed after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost—before that moment, he was cowering in the upper room, but upon receiving those graces, he immediately stepped out in courage.

There is a lesser known story in which Jesus meets Peter out on the road and redirects his path. Instead of the road to Damascus, it is the road from Rome:

A legend has Peter walking along a road outside of Rome, fleeing arrest and certain death, when he comes to a crossroads: where the Appian Way meets the Via Ardeatina.

There he meets our risen Lord.

“Quo vadis?” Peter asks, to which Jesus replies:

“Romam vado iterum crucifigi.” I am going to Rome to be crucified again….

The end of the story, of course, is the end of Peter. He turns around and heads back towards Vatican Hill. This is the last time he would need to be redirected by Jesus.

Brad Miner

1601-2

Imagine Peter at that crossroads. It would not be the first time he’d found himself in that position—his abiding love for Jesus pinned against his all-encompassing terror of suffering and death. Here was a second chance to choose faith over fear. Perhaps this time, Peter would recall the words he once spoke to Jesus: “Master, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life.”

Just as Peter and Paul persevered despite their flaws and sins and mistakes, may we too find the courage to get up when we fall and keep moving forward. May we recognize that it is far better to stumble along the right road than to speed down the wrong one—for even if the wrong one is smoother and easier, it won’t take us where we need to go, and there is only one Way that leads to everlasting life.


1. Anonymous (Roman school), Saints Peter and Paul / PD-US
2. Filippino Lippi, St. Paul Visits St. Peter in Prison / PD-US
3. Annibale Caracci, Domine, quo vadis? / PD-US

The Law, Mercy, and Freedom

…Standing by the column, the king made a covenant before the LORD
that they would follow him
and observe his ordinances, statutes and decrees
with their whole hearts and souls,
thus reviving the terms of the covenant
which were written in this book.
And all the people stood as participants in the covenant.
-2 Kings 23:3

Today’s first reading tells a beautiful and moving story: The LORD’s chosen people, Judah, find the Word that had been lost. Not just any word, but the book of the law. The conditions of God’s covenant with His children.

The high priests dust it off and wade, unknowing, into its contents. What the read grips their heart like nothing they’ve heard before. The Word has sought them out, coming to them, falling into their lap like so much serendipity, though we know it was the work of the Spirit that brought His people to His Word.

I am reminded of all of the scenes in Tolkien-esque fantasy where a beaten-down group of upstarts against insurmountable odds find their ancient weapon/artifact/ally, and its very presences renews their spirit and faith. Something about this new discovery speaks to their heritage, their patrimony, their identity, reviving their hearts and minds to a powerful and terrific purpose. (Or for a less nerdy version, maybe take the famous “Band of Brothers” speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V)

If we can imagine such an inspiring moment in fictional battles, how much more might God’s own sons and daughters have been invigorated by the living Word!

Yet the moment in today’s story from 2 Kings that most impacted me was the section quoted above. The king swore a renewed commitment to their long-lost covenant, and by the mercy of an all-powerful God, this was not just a symbolic or nostalgic gesture! What does it say instead?

“they would follow him
and observe his ordinances, statutes and decrees
with their whole hearts and souls,
thus reviving the terms of the covenant

The LORD’s covenant was always valid! His mercy was waiting for them! This the heart of the Good Father running out to meet their prodigal son, 600 years before the parable was even told!

As Erin mentioned on Monday, the treasures in heaven only grow brighter the closer we come to our Father. The LORD has good gifts for us; today’s readings tell us how His law leads us to freedom.

Return to the LORD! He longs for communion with you, His daughter. He longs for communion with you, His son. He wants to talk to you, tell you he loves you, and give you the strength to do what most fulfills your purpose.

The Narrow Way

I remember years ago, as a child, reading with awe the stories of great missionaries and martyrs.  And so when in China I met “real live people” who were daily risking their lives to bring the Gospel, I was somewhat starstruck.  I attended secret Masses with priests and nuns who had served in the Underground Church for decades, who had friends who had been arrested, beaten, or even killed for their faith.  I met women who taught small children the faith, despite the law that made it a crime to speak of God to anyone under eighteen.  I met men and women who had started orphanages and infant hospices to care for the abandoned and discarded little ones, and others who assisted women seeking to hide their “illegal” pregnancies from forced abortion.  Each of these daily put their livelihood and even their lives on the line, over a span of decades, and many had suffered terrible persecution but still persisted.

When I was invited to join some of them in a secret mission trip to another part of China, to join in speaking “illegally” about the faith, I was thrilled.  To be fair, the risk to me was insignificant—if caught I would only be deported, not killed.  But there was something in me that loved the idea of being a part of something that felt so missionary, to join these heroes even in a partial way.

But then, a few days before we were to leave, something felt wrong.  At first I thought the heat was finally getting to me.  We had taken a taxi to the Great Wall, and our driver like many elderly Chinese had a deep superstition regarding moving air.  He insisted on keeping the windows closed and the AC off, until we arrived and gratefully tumbled out into the much cooler 99 degree air.  But the weak, dizzy feeling continued well into the evening, even after we returned from the wall.

The next morning, my stomach began to lurch and make sounds that might have had me burned at the stake in earlier centuries.  It then violently designated “return to sender” pretty much everything I had ever eaten or ever considered eating.  Charity and basic decency ask me to censor the graphic details, but suffice it to say, I had never been so sick in my life.

In the United States, when one gets a stomach bug or food poisoning it usually end after 24 hours or so.  This did not.  After three full days my body was still violently and involuntarily turning itself inside out, and I alternated between thinking I was going to die and praying that I would.

I did not suffer nobly.  I did not smile serenely offering up my pain for the poor souls.  I was not peaceful, accepting whatever God would send me for His greater glory. I don’t even think I prayed, other than to beg God to let me die, quickly.  I had not known, until that moment, that it was possible to experience such pain and not die or fall unconscious.  I only wanted it to end.

It was ten days before I was back on my feet again, thanks to a combination of watermelon, Cipro and many prayers.  I missed the mission trip, and realized ruefully that that far from being a hero, I had more in common with the nameless companions who died of dysentery before ever reaching the missions.

I was tempted to be disappointed, at first, at not being permitted to do something “great” like the others.  And I was frustrated at how poorly I had suffered even my minor little cross, when I knew others who carried much bigger ones more gracefully.  But God’s plan for each of us is profoundly personal, and always perfect.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”  We’ve all heard some variation on this, and know, (at least on some level) the harm in Park Avenue pretense, or Wall Street ambition, or any other human measuring sticks.  Yet sometimes this slips into our spirituality and our ideas of holiness.

It is a central strategy of the Opposition Voice to turn our eyes away from Christ, to look instead to the gifts, or faults, of others.  When we see those of seemingly greater gifts or callings we are tempted to doubt our own, to be ungrateful, or to let them go unused.  When we see the faults of others, we are tempted to excuse our own, saying “at least I am not as bad as him/her.”  My father used to warn me not to make others the measure of my soul: “You will always be able to find someone holier than you, and someone more sinful.  The fact that you are better than Hitler does not make you a good person.  You need to do the best you can with what you have been given.” Christ invites us to look to Him, to what He is calling us to individually.

The way is narrow because it is personal, a specific way for each person.  As Pope Benedict said, there are “as many ways as there are people.”  Not that each person invents his or her own way—nothing could be more disastrous!  Rather each person is uniquely called to follow Christ in a particular way, with particular gifts.  The one reason to do anything, great or small, is because He asks us to.

The Gleam of Heavenly Treasures

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.
But store up treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

“The lamp of the body is the eye.
If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light;
but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness.
And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.”

—Matthew 6:19–23

Antonio_de_Pereda_y_Salgado_-_The_Knight's_Dream_-_WGA17164Our relationship with God is the lens through which we view the whole world. If we seek Light, if we pursue virtue and beauty and wonder, every experience we have will be illuminated by that encounter. If we truly know how loved we are, it will change everything. But often our selfishness and insecurity and anger cloud our vision and keep us from grasping the reality of Love. When we allow this to happen, all the wonders that surround us become cloaked in darkness. Our joy, too, grows dim.

When our pursuit of earthly treasures distracts us from our relationship with God, the Light inside us begins to fade, and even our earthly treasures fall into shadow and lose their glimmer. But for heavenly treasures, the reverse is true: the more we pursue them, the more brilliantly they shine. For as we increase our desire for holiness, our capacity for God’s Light increases, and we begin to see everything more clearly.

Jean-François_Millet_Angelus

If our vision is rightly ordered, this pursuit of heavenly treasures will follow naturally. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, though he was born into wealth, didn’t consider his riches to be of any importance. He didn’t act in the way you would expect a young man raised in comfort and affluence to behave. Instead of trying to accumulate more and more possessions, he secretly gave his money away to the poor. Instead of trying to impress other people, he embraced humility. This all flowed from the fact that he was able to see his situation more clearly, because he had encountered the Light. He recognized that, in the bigger picture, his wealth was ultimately meaningless, and thus he set about securing a treasure far more important. His wealth was a gift that was meant to be used to pour out grace upon others. If Pier Giorgio had clung to his wealth out of selfishness, it would have been a great burden, holding him back from the greatness to which he was called.

May we too loosen our grip on our earthly treasures, so that we can make room for greater ones; and may we invite God to shine his Light upon us.


1. Antonio de Pereda, The Knight’s Dream / PD-US
2. Jean-François Millet, The Angelus / PD-US

“Do not be unbelieving, but believe”

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

Do you ever feel “stuck” in your prayer life? Do you ever self-edit as you pray, trying to find the best words or the holiest way to put something? As you pray, do you ever feel disappointed in yourself for what you’re saying or how you’re saying it, and then lose the prayer as you rehearse your words again? These things have been happening to me quite often lately, so these words of the Lord before the Lord’s Prayer stood out to me as words of comfort and power to help me simplify and de-stress my prayer life.

Our God knows what we need before we even ask Him. He’s a Good Father, He sees his children as they are and also as the saints He desires for us to become. Prayer is not a submission request to God, prayer is requesting more submission to God and the plans He already has in mind for us. Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking of prayer as this “secret weapon” to employ when things get really tough rather than the ideal mode or state of being human. Prayer is not meant to be “used” for anything, as Jesus reminds us here. Submitting all our requests and thoughts to God as perfectly as possible is not what our God desires; when approaching prayer, He desires that we first acknowledge Him as our providential, all-knowing, benevolent Father.

And if we take that as a starting point, we take prayer to be primarily Other-focused, not focused on our “list of things we’d like addressed soon, God, please.” Wha a comfort to just sit and let your soul meditate and dwell upon the depth of God’s knowing, deeper than we will ever know of ourselves. It is trust in this Knowing that love for God takes root, and grows through prayer, communication with God. Just think of how different conversations about something difficult you’re going through are with longtime friends vs. people you just met; the deeper shared knowing of the friends makes for a very rich and open discussion that requires less explanation, it’s just not needed. Whereas, there might be a lot of background knowledge required by someone you just met. Jesus, here, is speaking out of a deep knowledge of His Father, Whom He addresses as Our Father. He points us to the Father, He gives us His Father.

Maybe as a good prayer exercise, write down all that is in your mind, don’t think of grammar or anything, just write and pray for five minutes and see what comes out. Then, as you re-read the content of your prayers, take time to sit with each area of concern, or joy, and meditate on God’s perfect knowledge of what you need out of this situation, focusing on trusting deeper in His love. Embrace the mystery of trusting in the Father.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

When giving is being filled

And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.
– Matthew 6:18

Today’s Gospel is likely a familiar one. It’s a strong teaching about how praying, fasting, or giving alms, while good acts, are hollow when you’re looking for attention. Pride is the root of all sin, so it’s not surprising that it can finds its way into even the most virtuous acts. Remember when Jesus said a demon was so strong that it could only come out through prayer and fasting?

To paraphrase my wife paraphrasing a recent sermon she had heard (I wish I knew which source to cite): Sometimes if the Devil can’t make you sin, he is content to make you ineffective.

I’ve recently been in a season of life that has required a lot of giving. I’m working longer hours than I have, and my duties at home grow in parallel with my toddling son. I wish I could say that my added efforts were perfectly and graciously offered to Jesus, that I was being a regular St. Joseph and that I am the image of St. Paul’s “cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

But they weren’t, I haven’t, and I’m not.

The change has been hard. And I am human (why, Lord?!). And I have gotten resentful more than I have liked.

When I go unnaturally out of my way and egg my wife on to tell me how great I am and how hard I’m working, I have received my award. When I am resentful and require a ‘reward’ (acknowledgment, affirmation, candy, etc.), that very well may be all I get for it.

God is merciful and mysterious, and he knows my heart better than I do, so I trust in him to take my small offerings and multiply them, even when my heart could further be purified. He’ll take care of His part, and today’s Gospel reminded me to take care of mine. Lord, purify my heart.

A Tiny Whispering Sound

Abraham_Bloemaert_-_Landscape_with_the_Prophet_Elijah_in_the_Desert_-_WGA2277

At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter.
But the word of the LORD came to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
—1 Kings 19:9–13

A tiny whispering sound. How gentle God is toward us. He is all-powerful; He created mountains and earthquakes and fire and wind. He could drop anvils and send down lightning to try and get our attention. And yet He speaks to us softly and tenderly.

He is the still, small voice within our hearts. He does not seek to control us; instead, He delights in watching us find our own way. He is always whispering words of guidance and love—and if we aren’t distracted by our own noise, we will hear His voice. But He does not force Himself upon us; rather, He pursues us with gentleness and care.

We are called to imitate this example of gentleness: to be both strong and kind, brave and humble, confident and caring. To be sensitive toward our neighbors without compromising our own strength. To respond to others without feeling as though we have to intimidate them or prove what we’re capable of. To be secure in the knowledge that withholding force is not a sign of weakness in us, but of composure and mercy.

Pier-Giorgio-PortraitLook to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as an example: a strong, active young man who approached the poor and downtrodden with the utmost care. This was a guy who was popular and athletic, who regularly climbed mountains for fun. And yet he didn’t go around flexing his muscles to try and impress people; rather, his true strength showed through in his tenderness toward those who were weak.

When we feel frustrated and wish God would send us a big, loud, obvious sign from above, let us remember that maybe we wouldn’t actually be able to handle such a bold response. God speaks to us softly so as not to intimidate us, but also to draw us closer to Him. In order to hear His gentle whisper, we must draw ever nearer.


1. Abraham Bloemaert, Landscape with the Prophet Elijah in the Desert / PD-US
2. Portrait of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati / Brandon Vogt