Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Sts Peter and Paul - In Today's Church and World, We need both

Both of these men were converted from being notorious sinners into great saints.  And so ask: How can I participate with God's graces and become more holy-even if you are in great sin, or are enmeshed in agonizing difficulties.  Both Peter and Paul were magnificent apostles, the word means "to be sent"-- they left their comfort zones (hint, hint) and went out into world to preach Christ. Ask: how can I be the Lord's witness wherever I go-manifesting Christ as the path to Heaven and salvation?...Both men suffered and died agonizing deaths and so offered up to God their lives as living sacrifices. How can you offer up every suffering for the glory of the Blessed Trinity?

As we celebrate the Solemnity of these Apostles and Saint-Martyrs-one of the greatest popes and one of the greatest evangelist ever-- let us honor the Primacy of Peter and the Passion of Paul.  First, some enlightening words about Jesus' plan of Unity and Peter's Primacy:

From the book, "Catholic Dogma," by Ludwig Ott, we read: "Jesus appointed the Apostle Peter to be the head of the Apostles and the supreme guide of His Church (Mt 16, 18 : John 21, 15-17).  Christ appointed the Apostle Peter to be the first of all the Apostles and to be the visible Head of the whole Church, by appointing him immediately and personally to the primacy of jurisdiction.  According to the teaching of St. Peter, Christ Himself is the "cornerstone," on which the spiritual temple, which the faithful conjointly form, is built, "the foundation which has been built" (Eph.2, 20), and on which the messengers of the Faith must continue to build in their missionary work (I Cor. 3, 11). Christ is the head of the Church (Eph. 5, 23; Col. I, 18).The Church is His property, which He has acquired with His own blood (Acts 20, 28), His bride, who He has loved, and for whom He has given Himself, in order to sanctify her, and to make Himself glorious (Eph. 5, 25-27.). True to Christ's commission, the Apostles preached to Jews and Pagans the Gospel of Christ, and established Christian communities. These were bound to one another by the confession of the same faith, and by the celebration of the same liturgy under the direction of the Apostles." (p273). 

On the passion of St Paul, from a homily by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop: "Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the danger that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead. When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them.

The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else; were he without it, it would be no satisfaction to be the friend of principalities and powers. He preferred to be thus loved and be least of all, or even to be among the damned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honored."

A couple decades ago I was studying at Towson State University--far away form the Church and the Lord--and a couple of collegians came up with a Bible, a smile and invitation: join them in following Jesus Christ-accepting Him as a born-again Christian, and then come to a social and Bible study . Well, I did all the above. After all, neo-paganism wasn't doing me any good, and I didn't have a date for the weekend, so what did I have to lose? I went and became hooked-I joined and profited from this evangelical group at TSU, gained a course to God from moral drifting, and all this served as an introduction into adult Christianity and our Catholic Church.

After contacting the Newman Center (Catholic campus ministry) I later met two young seminarians, dressed in the Roman collars, and they introduced me not only to a good parking space on campus (a rare, crucial find: God knows how to reach us!), but also to Fr. Bob Albright. He helped me to understand the Bible along with the two-thousand year tradition of early Christians and great saints, and not just filtered thru contemporary believers-however sincere-of today. Later I returned to my parish church, volunteering there and befriending the newly ordained priest, Fr Jim Barker. These two Catholic priests-with a cast of a hundred others-helped me to become a priest.

It all began (or re-began), though, with the evangelical Campus Crusade; if not for them, who knows where I would be today. Though I disagree with some of their biblical theology and teachings, I respect them for helping me and engendering within me a love and passion for Jesus and a spirit of evangelism.

I think about them upon this Solemnity, and the risks and challenges they took for Jesus and the Gospel at a modern university and within a challenging America, and sometimes pagan culture.

The other day I thought about them again while waiting in a car shop. I picked up Time magazine with catchy title: "Should Christians convert Muslims?" Subtitle: "New flock of missionaries to Islamic countries. Will they inspire more backlash than belief?" It was a vital question and description of the article which, overall, described favorably evangelical missionaries, their zeal to bring Jesus to others, and the difficulties of witnessing today amidst Islam. The article cited these facts: "One of every three missionaries to Islamic countries is American; and one of every three is an evangelical."

This got me wondering on this Solemnity of the greatest Missionaries, Peter and Paul: where are all the Catholic missionaries? Today we need a revitalization of our Roman Catholic Faith to equip and project a "new evangelization" (Pope John Paul's' words). The "old school" of failed modernism and progressivism--which denies the authentic interpretation of the Bible, the Lord's sacrificial death and needed help of his Catholic Unity--is not up to the task: Catholicism is threatened not only in Middle America but also in Central and South America, the Far East and elsewhere. Look: the original evangelists were Catholic (in fact, if not in "name")-and I speak not only of the Four Gospel writers but the apostles and earliest Christians of the Way. And so we, today, are called to continue their sacred mission-to invite all souls to Jesus Christ, His graces and His apostolic Church in the Catholic Unity. Catholics never impose this on anyone but rather propose it to everyone-using words if necessary.

Today the Catholic Church (especially in the USA) lacks the evangelical spirit. Why? Simply put: 1)Materialism-with the pursuit of worldly riches so prevalent, who wants to go out and witness to others - epically in poor or problematic countries--when we "got it all here"? We American Catholics can easily get stuck in our own rich world-and, far too often, are. 2) Indifferentism: meaning we become indifferent to another's religion or lack thereof:. Some contemporary Catholics think one religion or spirituality is as good as another-"there are many roads up the mountain". Both of the fallacies and dangers threaten the Catholic Church and her spirit of evangelization: How will you.   1)identify these problem areas to avoid?; 2)Study your Faith to counteract?; 3) Help by being a witness here, in the U.S., and perhaps elsewhere? The Pope has said that even North America is in need of a new missionary spirit.

Today, in the successor of Peter and Paul, we have a great, living witness and "icon" to the Primacy and Passion evoked by the Apostles- Pope John Paul II. What do I mean? Well, he embodies the primacy part in unifying various peoples (reaching out incessantly to the Eastern Orthodox Church, to Jews and other Christians); taking the lead in world events and leadership (at the United Nations, in campaigns for children and hunger; in calling all to live the Ten Commandments); by building up Catholics and Christians (inspiring us with his writings and his very life!); by correcting people who are wrong in their Catholic Faith and need for conversion; and by defending and defining the Faith (with a vibrant orthodoxy-the splendor of beauty; giving us the new Catechism, his defense of authentic Catholic doctrine and interpretations of the Mass and Vatican II ). Pope John Paul has shown he can lead and will: he is not only a strong Slav and Pole, but also a robust Catholic and virile man (and not only skiing, either!)-all to serve Jesus and His mission of saving souls.

Another example of faith is Cardinal John Henry Newman, who was persecuting the Catholic church in England as a Anglican minister, Then he began opening up to the teachings of the Church and the absolute need for the primacy of Peter-doctrinal and moral leadership-and eventually became a Catholic. His conversion shows us that, when shown the orthodox truths of Jesus' Church and the need for authority within it, we can overcome our own doubts and see Christ in the Catholic Faith.

The Pope is equally zealous and passionate, as St Paul was: he has vigorously traveled to over a hundred countries, meeting millions of people, kissing babies, listening to the poor and oppressed, meeting royalty and dictators alike-not as "good will ambassador"--but as Vicar of Christ to bring souls to the Blessed Trinity: that's his job and he loves it. Recall his zeal in visiting the imprisoned man who tried to kill him, and his forgiveness of him . Remember his Mass with the largest group of humans ever gathered-some 10-15 million in Mexico? Do you recall his first words to us and all peoples as he became Pope-"Be not Afraid!"? John Paul has especially reached out to youth thru music, Masses and youth events, showing his dynamic passion to bring back the young to Christ. He has brought an evangelical orthodoxy into the world-not just a sterile re-stating of Truth--but a dynamic representation of it and invitation to it for all. 

Souls and converts like St Augustine in the past became entranced by the passion of the Church and Catholic faithful (Augustine was influenced by St Ambrose), and today, people like Scott Hahn-a convert after persecuting the Catholic Church-show us how to Love the Lord and find his truths in the Church, and lives this zealously. As Augustine was one of the leading apologists and defenders of the Church in his times, so Hahn is today-because of love, truth and sacred desire blend together and attract others.

The Catholic Church always invites, and is ever ready to welcome anyone into its fold. Why? Because, quite simply, it is Christ's Fold-He is the Head of the Mystical Body, and the present Pope is His vicar-representative. When a priest "says Mass," the Church teaches that it is Christ in him celebrating the Mass; when a priest hears a confession it is Jesus in the priest forgiving the sinner-no one can absolve sins except God. Christ still works today in the world and uses Primacy and Passion-Law and Love-- as His tools and manifestations to draw souls to Heaven.

As Catholics and Christians today we need to esteem our Holy Father, and thank God for the gift of the Papacy. Why? Because we all need identifiable spiritual leadership, and today there are now at least thirty thousand Christian denominations-all with separate, so-called authentic leaders. Also, the world and Christianity is being challenged to accept the fastest growing religion-Islam; and relativism and modernism ( ideological twin evils affecting every soul today) are threatening Jesus' followers. Subsequently we need not small evangelical groups, inspired individuals or rugged individualists to counter all this (although we can use them, and should!). Rather we need a strong, powerful, spiritual and heroic person to unite and lead us all. This will never happen on good intentions alone, or by happenstance or by Christians further breaking off from the Lord's Unity and Church.   Look at these "Petrine Facts":

+Mt 16:18: "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I shall build my Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it".  +St Peter's name is mentioned twice as many times as all the other apostles names put together.  +St Peter's name always is listed first in important lists of apostles and sections, to denote his headship and then-current favored status.  +St Peter is pinpointed by Jesus in the "Apostolic mandate," to Feed His lambs in the all important post-resurrection appearance -Jn ch. 21) -Peter atones three times for his three-fold denial of Jesus. 

If Catholicism is anything, it is common sense. Look: A baseball team needs a (strong, enlightened manager who has ties to past wisdom, and not a cast of 'know-it-all's" trying by goodwill alone to run the team: it won't work. And when one manager retires, another takes over-one man, always. While the manager calls the shots, he lets others help, but the buck stops you-know- where. Jesus knew this need of accountability and unmistakable leadership (though they can certainly make mistakes!)-- is in us human beings, and so He gave us a certain physical and spiritual extension of Himself , and leader, in the Church, in the person of St Peter and subsequent popes: He wouldn't leave us with the alternative-a mutiny, disagreeing managers, or no manager at all, without plans for succession and carry thru. The Roman Catholic Church traces its lineage of popes all the way back to St Peter-always has, always will. It is the only Church which claims this, and that it is Jesus' Church, in an unbroken succession. The Church teaches this pastorally, not persecutingly.

Today, we Catholics and Christians need: unity, strong teaching truth; doctrine and dogmas which are re-presentations of past, essential, unchangeable truths of Jesus and His Church; apologetics to explain Faith and make it understandable; we need a unifier who calls and helps all disparate Christians to seek a common ground, and a challenger to the anti-Christian culture-as Peter was; we need authentic interpretation of Faith and application of it to today's worlds of business, medicine and home life. Non-Catholics sometimes claim that the Holy Spirit or the Bible itself does the interpreting for them, and so there is no need for a Church or authority. This is noble but fraught with problems-look at all the "authentic interpretations" today in thousands of Churches. The Catholic Church, claims that the Holy Spirit will lead us and the Catholic Church to all truth (cf Jn 16); and that the Bible itself will help; but we absolutely need a third "leg" to stand on, and this is the Magisterium-the Pope in union with the bishops, when teaching about faith or morals. Every Church or denomination has such a functioning body, whether it calls it that or not; someone is a leader and makes decisions; the question is, Is the authority linked to Jesus?, His Church and Unity?, His Bible and authentic interpretation?

We also need the Passion of a Paul to go out, to seek the lost, to save souls, to passionately preach the Gospel: Under no other name can anyone be saved than Jesus Christ" (Act 4:12) and, "I live no longer I, but Christ in me" (Gal 2:20). We cannot live or spread our Sacred Religion without passion. Brains alone will only give us sterile intellectualism (though we certainly need smarts today); law alone will only give us legalism (though we need the Commandments to command our errant, rebellious ways). Like the protestant evangelists mentioned in the Time story excitedly going to witness to Muslims, or those who met this priest to bring him back to Christ, are You passionately willing to spread the Faith? Catholics have the richest, most Christ-like heritage and treasures, and yet we fail to authentically pass on to others.

When we recognize the primacy of St Peter we are actually recognizing Christ (Who said: "I am the vine you (apostles and disciples) are the branches" -Jn 15:1ff) Jesus' relationship to us today is solid (built upon the rock of St Peter-Mt 16), interdependent between Heaven, Earth and each one of us (see Rev. 12, how Heaven affects earth; Jn 21, on binding on earth affecting Heaven), and animated by Himself (see Eph2). . The recognition of the Lord's plan thru the Catholic Unity need be neither oppressive nor exclusive, as some would interpret. If we recognize St. Peter we will then try our best to preserve the authentic unity and teaching the Lord has handed on to us thru history. Primacy means God's spiritual provision, not religious pride.

Conclusions: How can we pray and work for Catholic and Christian Unity more?...How can we blend, and help our priests and bishops meld, both principles of Primacy and Passion in today's Church?...How can I help my Church be a Mission-Church?...How can I reach out to non-Catholics in loving ways to invite them to the Catholic-Christ-centered fold-am I convinced myself of Jesus' presence in the Catholic Faith?...If I am non-Catholic, how can I approach a priest or Catholic and ask clarifying questions about the Church?...How can I honor and worship God more by venerating His saints?...

When I was traveling in Tibet a couple decades ago, many Tibetans would came up to me-knowing I was from "the outside" -- and asked for pictures-icons of the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader .   I found this startling and inspiring: people had a passion and hunger for him and spiritual hope for his leadership amidst oppression-only he, one identifiable person could unite them. The same is true for us in the so-called enlightened and free West. Thank God we have a Pope who embodies both the Primacy of Peter and the Passion of Paul-pray for him.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi