- Born: c. 1 in Bethsaida, Galilee
- Died: c. 64 in Rome, Italy
- Feast Day: June 29
- Patronage: Fishermen, Ship Builders and Shipwrights, Net Makers, Papacy, Popes, The Papal Basilica of St. Peter (Vatican City), Universal Church, various dioceses and cities, including Rome, Italy, Bakers, Bridge Builders, Butchers, Harvesters, Locksmiths, Shoe Makers, Stone Masons, Watch Makers, longevity, against feet problems, frenzy, and fevers.
- Born: c. 3 in Tarsus, Cilicia (modern day Turkey)
- Died: c. 65 in Rome, Italy
- Feast Day: June 29
- Patronage: Tent Makers, Evangelists, Journalists and Writers, Publishers, Missionary Bishops, Musicians, Public Relations Work and Personnel, Rope Makers, Saddlers, various dioceses and cities, including Rome, Italy, Malta, against snakes, snake bites, and hailstorms.
The Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul commemorates the martyrdom of two mighty apostles of the Church. Each of these men played a crucial and defining role in the Church’s development, yet no two people could have been more different. St. Peter was an uneducated fisherman – rough, loyal, impetuous, and passionate. St. Paul, on the other hand, was a highly educated man. He was a Pharisee who was determined, energetic, and committed to his Jewish faith. A tent maker by trade, ‘Saul’ (as he was first called) was one of the primary leaders in the persecution against the early Christians. When we consider the lives of these men prior to their encounter with Christ, it’s hard to understand why Jesus would have chosen them to be His followers. How did they come to be among the greatest leaders of the Church? To answer this question, we must first consider their lives in light of the transforming power of God.
St. Peter, Apostle and First Pope of the Church
I have always had a special affection for these two apostles. I love their gutsiness, their audacity, their perseverance, and especially their love for our Lord. We meet St. Peter for the first time at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The story is well known. Jesus was standing by the shore of the Sea of Galilee and crowds of people were pressing up against Him, clamouring to hear the Word of God. Peter and Andrew had just finished an unsuccessful night of fishing – they had caught nothing. Tired after all of their efforts, they had pulled their fishing boat up to the shore and were washing their nets in the sea. Seeing Peter, Jesus asked if he could get into the boat so that He could teach the people from off shore. Peter agreed.
When Jesus finished speaking to the crowds, He told Peter to take his boat back out into deeper water and let down his nets for a catch. Peter’s response is hardly surprising. He was tired and perhaps even a bit hungry. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!”1 he replied. But Peter must have already recognized that there was something different about Jesus. Rather than turn away, he made an act of faith that would change his entire life, saying, “But at your word I will let down the nets.”2 When Peter and Andrew put down their nets, they were filled to the breaking point. Their partners, James and John, came to help, and the weight of the fish was so great that it almost sank both of the boats. When they returned to shore, all four men left everything and followed Jesus.
Because of Peter’s great faith, Jesus chose him to be the founder and first Pope of the Church. “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18). Peter loved Jesus deeply and was committed to His teaching, yet he was also a man with many weaknesses and flaws. He was wilful and hot-tempered, and in times of crisis, counted on himself and on his own strength. He was certain that no challenge would ever be too great for him. However, on the night when Jesus was betrayed, Peter was sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane when he ought to have been praying for strength to withstand the trial to come. At the crucial moment in the courtyard of the High Priest, Peter panicked and denied that he even knew Christ.3 It was a failure that would cause him great sorrow for the rest of his life. Tradition tells us that his face was lined with the marks of his tears.
Yet the moment of his greatest downfall also became the defining moment when Peter would be transformed into the kind of leader Jesus had known he could be. Humbly recognizing his own weakness, Peter repented. Inspired by His great love for Jesus, He learned to trust in God and to turn to Him in all his needs. Peter led the early Church with great humility and faith and left two beautiful letters to the Church. He was martyred in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero. Feeling unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus, he asked to be crucified upside down.
St. Paul, the Apostle
Saul (the future St. Paul) never actually met our Lord. Born in Tarsus, he was a Roman citizen. He was sent to Jerusalem at a young age to study the Jewish faith under the renowned rabbi, Gamaliel. This thorough education exposed him to classical literature, philosophy, and ethics. He was also well versed in the Greek language, something that would be very important for his future apostolic mission.
Saul first came to the attention of the early Church sometime around 34 A.D., when he was one of the witnesses to the stoning of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen.4 After that day, a great persecution began against the Church in Jerusalem, and Christians were forced to scatter throughout the surrounding regions of Judea and Samaria. Scripture tells us, “Saul laid waste the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). But Saul was not content to just arrest those he found in Jerusalem. “Breathing threats and murder against the disciples,”5 he set out on the road to Damascus. He hoped to find more Christians there who he could arrest and bring back to Jerusalem.
It was on the road to Damascus that Saul first encountered Jesus. As he approached the city, a bright light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Saul answered, “Who are you, Lord?”
The voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”6
When Saul stood up, he found that he was blind, and he had to rely on others to lead him into Damascus. For three days and nights, he refused to eat or drink anything. But God had not forgotten him; He asked a man called Ananias to heal Saul. Saul’s reputation had preceded him, though, and Ananias was afraid that Saul would arrest him. God answered his concerns with words of encouragement: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).
Saul – later known as Paul7 – became one of the greatest missionaries of the Church. He founded churches throughout Asia Minor and Europe and left many letters – to the Churches at Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, and Thessalonica – as well as a letter to Philemon.8 These letters form a large portion of the New Testament. Although the Bible does not tell us how St. Paul died, Christian tradition holds that he was beheaded in Rome, also during the reign of Nero in the mid-60s.
Paul was not the “perfect missionary.” He, too, had his own weaknesses. Like St. Peter, he wasn’t a particularly eloquent speaker – a fact that seems strange when you consider that he was entrusted with bringing the Gospel message to the whole world!9 I love the story of how Paul had arrived in Troas, and when he met with the believers there, his talk went on until midnight. A young man sitting in the window was so tired that he fell asleep, toppled out of the third floor window, and died. Undeterred, Paul brought the young man back to life and continued speaking to the people until daybreak.10
Like us, Paul also had his share of sufferings. He worked incessantly, was imprisoned several times, was beaten almost to death on countless occasions, was stoned, shipwrecked three times, and was in constant danger from robbers, false brethren, and pagans. He worried about the welfare of the churches, and he often went without food, shelter, and sleep.11 As if this wasn’t enough, Paul also suffered from what he described as “a thorn.”12 Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly what this suffering was, but it was painful enough that three times Paul begged God to rid him of it. However, God did not choose to heal Paul, saying instead, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
It is in these words that I think we find at least part of the answer to the question of why Jesus chose these two men – with all of their flaws, weaknesses, and failings – to be the founders of His Church. Yes, Jesus could have picked learned, eloquent, and saintly people to be His disciples. But He wanted us to see that it is not our own virtues or strength that we must depend on; it is the power of God that will give us the graces that we need. Jesus is the one who will transform us. Jesus is the one who makes crooked lines straight. It is not our words, but God’s message, that is so attractive.
In picking such dramatically different people, God also shows us the importance and need of all our unique gifts and talents. There is not one type of personality or one type of gift that is best; we are all needed to work together for the Kingdom of God!12 It is through our communion with one another that we will be able to bring about the full richness of the Body of Christ. As we reflect on the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul, we, too, have the hope that in our weakness, we can become witnesses to the greatness of God and the power of His love.
– Sharon van der Sloot
Novena to St. Peter and St. Paul
O Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, I choose you this day and forever to be my special patrons and advocates; you, St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, because you are the Rock upon which almighty God has built His Church; you, St. Paul because you were forechosen by God as the vessel of election and the preacher of truth to the whole world. Obtain for me, I pray you, lively faith, firm hope and burning love; complete detachment from myself, contempt of the world, patience in adversity, humility in prosperity, attention in prayer, purity of heart, a right intention in all my works, diligence in fulfilling the duties of my state of life, constancy in my resolutions, resignation to the will of God and perseverance in the grace of God even to death; so that, by means of your intercession and your glorious merits, I may be able to overcome the devil, and may be made worthy of the Promises of Christ and enjoy His presence and love Him forever. Amen.
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be.
1 Luke 5:5
3 Mt 26:57-75
4 Acts 7:58
5 Cf. Acts 9:1
6 Acts 9:3-6
7 Paul’s Jewish name was ‘Saul’. St. Luke refers to Saul as ‘Paul’ – his Roman name – once Paul began his missionary journeys.
8 There are 13 letters attributed to Paul, but only seven are recognized as definitely having been written by him. They are: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. The other six are often called “Deutero-Pauline” and may have been written by later Christians who were familiar with Paul’s teachings.
9 Cf. 2 Cor 11:6
10 Cf. Acts 20:6-12
11 Cf. 2 Cor 11:23-29
12 2 Cor 12:7
13 See 1 Cor 12