Today we have the pleasure to celebrate two of the founders of the church.
The first, St. Peter, is the “Rock” (in Jesus’ words) upon which the church was established. Even though he denied his association to Christ during the passion, Jesus saw something that not even Peter himself recognized.
On the Day of Pentecost that all changed. Charged up by the Holy Spirit, Peter took the leadership of the apostles and began the mission of spreading the word about the new Christian faith.
In the Bible stories Jesus meets Peter (identified as Simon) while he is fishing with his brother Andrew and James and John. Jesus invites them to become “fishers of men.” To this day, one of his iconographic symbols (beside the “keys to the kingdom of Heaven”) is a fish.
During his time with Jesus, Peter received instruction, witnessed Christ’s miracles and His Transfiguration. Peter’s faith was tested when he tried to walk on water and failed. He was with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. His constant presence, failures and redemption are sort of prototypes of our own quest to follow Jesus and hope for eternal reward.
According to Paul, Peter was the first of the apostles to be visited by the Risen Lord. Peter became the leader of the apostles, the first bishop and, after taking his mission to Rome, the first pope.
Tradition says Peter was martyred during the reign of Nero. A great fire had destroyed a large portion of the city in 64 C.E. Nero placed the blame on the Christians. Peter was one of those who was vilified. He was to be crucified but requested he be hung upside down because he was not worthy to die in the same manner as the Lord Jesus.
Paul probably is more responsible than any other saint for creating Christianity as we know it today. He came from a strict Jewish family of tent makers. With this craft he would support himself while he was on his many future missions. He also enjoyed Roman citizenship. This is an important factor in the way he finally was martyred. Citizens could not be crucified, so he died by the sword (later to be one of his icons).
Paul did not become a Christian until sometime after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He described in Acts 7:58-60; 22:20, how he persecuted the first Christians and even participated in the stoning of St. Stephen.
His conversion happened during one of his trips to Damascus when he was blinded by a great light, fell from his horse, and heard a voice say, “Why persecutest thou me?” When Paul said, “Who art thou, Lord?” the voice answered, “I am Jesus whom thou persecute.” For three days he remained blind until a Christian, Ananias of Damascus, was able to heal him. It was only then that Paul recognized the divinity of Jesus. He proclaimed himself a servant of Christ and stated that his conversion was due to the grace of God and not reason or intellect.
Paul began his mission preaching to the Gentiles and traveled from the Holy Land to Syria, Turkey and Greece. He insisted you did not have to be born Jewish to become Christian. In fact, he was once imprisoned for taking some Gentiles too far into the Temple precincts.
Paul, in many ways, was more successful than some of the Jewish apostles. He had an effective way of communicating and an ability to present himself as an ordinary man through his family craft while demonstrating his passion, wit, and convictions.
He taught that faith in Christ guarantees salvation. In words that his audience could understand about ancient sacrificial rites he explained that Jesus’ death was necessary so that they might be freed from sin (atonement). In Galatians he explains that as soon as you are baptized into faith, you are also baptized into Christ’s death and freed from sin. Seven of the 27 books of the New Testament are attributed to him. He may have contributed to another seven.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini in part from Day, M. (2002). “A Treasury of Saints: 100 Saints Their Lives and Times” (first ed., pp. 110-111). Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.