A priest suggested that as we honor these two great men of the Church, the word to remember is “grace.” Peter and Paul were masterpieces of God’s grace. They were each changed radically by grace and they persevered for the faith until death by grace. The Catechism teaches us that grace is “the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adopted sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” The grace of God works in humanity’s weakness, brokenness and sin. As a Jewish rabbi said, “We meet God where human self-sufficiency ends.” This, indeed, was the experience of both Peter and Paul.
Peter’s most glaring failure was his triple denial of Jesus when the Lord was arrested. The gospels tell us how he swore and cursed the woman who accused him of being a company of the Lord. Peter said, “I do not even know the man.” The night before that, he promised the Lord that he will never leave him. But when the moment of test came, he failed.
Jesus came to meet Peter right down in his weakness. After the resurrection, the Lord asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” A commentator suggested that the Lord had to ask Peter the same question three times in order to give him the chance to redeem himself. This was for Peter his most humbling, yet reconciling moment. “Lord, you know that I love you,” three times he painfully responded. Whether Peter was this time honest or not was clearly decided when he himself later died for the faith.
Paul’s serious fault was his blatant persecution of the followers of Jesus. He was one of those zealous and rigid Pharisees. When Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death, Paul was present and the Scripture gave witness saying, “The cloaks piled up at the feet of Saul (the old name of Paul) who approved of the stoning.”
Paul was an arrogant and self-righteous religious fanatic until a blinding light struck him down from his horse while he was on his way to Damascus to round up more Christians. He was blinded and was laid flat on his back when he heard the voice that says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” After that, Paul became disoriented – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. In that weakened state, he was led to a Christian household in Damascus to be prayed over, healed, and baptized. In his weakness, Paul met Jesus and from then on, he offered his whole life for the service of the Church.
Grace helped Peter recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Son of the living God. Grace transformed Peter from a weak, impulsive individual into a strong rock, confident head of the Church. It was also grace that changed Paul from a hateful persecutor into a dedicated apostle, a great messenger of the Lord to the gentiles. Grace allowed him to finish the race and to keep the faith.
The feast of Saints Peter and Paul should inspire us to find strength in God and to recognize that our gifts are all God’s grace. Like Paul, we always say, “In God we live and move and have our being.”