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GOSPEL REFLECTION – Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul

Dear sisters and brothers,

As we celebrate the Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul today, our readings give us what might be called bookends to the story of the early Church.  We have two readings marking the beginnings of St Peter’s ministry: the first – today’s Gospel – when he is an ardent disciple of Jesus, recognising that Jesus is the Messiah; the second when he is saved from execution at the hands of Herod in the early days after Pentecost.  (It’s worth noting that poor St James has already been executed. St Luke, the writer of the Acts of the Apostles, focuses in on St Peter’s miracle, but we all know from our own lives that we don’t always receive such miracles.  This contrast highlights that the giving or withholding of miracles always has a purpose: St James witnessed with his blood to the early Church to strengthen them in the moment; St Peter’s life is saved as he has another purpose to perform in building the Church until his own final witness.) Our second reading today highlights the approaching end of ministry as St Paul recognises that he has done all that he can in the service of Jesus. Together the readings take as through the zeal of the early Church, to its sense of responsibility in its mission as it matures and comes to a place of fulfilment that it has been faithful to its calling by Christ.

These may be bookends of the early Church, but they are also a means of measuring our own faith life for ourselves.  Do I have the sense of initial zeal that St Peter felt in those early days of knowing Jesus, or have I built upon it as I’ve grown in my faith or have I never had it?  If it’s the latter, the Lord is inviting you to get to know him personally, as a friend, that you might discover that zeal.  As I’ve recommended before, the series ‘The Chosen’, that’s available via the internet, may be a helpful starting point in this.  Get to know who Jesus is, not how history has portrayed him to be at times.

Or, as we reflect on our life of faith maybe we can see that we have stepped into a sense of responsibility for witnessing to the faith.  Witnessing is a key word, for that’s what ‘martyr’ actually means: to witness.  Some of us, like Peter and Paul, witness even with our blood.  Most of us in our 21st century world will witness with a different kind of self-giving though, as we may be misunderstood by others, and even scorned, ridiculed, rejected.  However, we live in a society that is more open to faith conversations than it was twenty years ago so there is also the potential for respect, acceptance and even conversion.  We will never know unless we step out in faith and try.  And so the Lord invites us to pray, to chat to him, as to how he is calling each of us to witness to our faith, and each of us will do it in a different way.  Some will be more direct, others more conversational; there are no rights or wrongs.  Ask the Lord how he wants you to share the friendship that you and he have with others.

Finally, our personal reflections – and our stage of life – may lead us to reflect, with St Paul, that we have “run the race” and it is nearly all over.  And that is good: to have a sense of completion and fulfilment that we have walked our path with the Lord faithfully and he says to us “well done, good and faithful servant”.  Hear those words and rejoice in them.  However, as St Paul infers, it is only ‘nearly’ all over.  And that nearly goes on until we take our final breath.  As both Ss Peter and Paul modelled in their own lives, they continued to witness to their faith even unto death.  We are told in the Acts of the Apostles that St Paul even welcomed visitors to hear the Gospel from him whilst under house arrest in the final two years of his life.  It might be nearly all over, the Lord might be saying “well done, good and faithful servant”, but that’s a phrase that he wants to say to you every moment that you are alive and in the life to come.

So as we reflect today let’s remember that the Church gives us these great saints, and all the saints, as role models to inspire us.  Let’s allow today’s feast to stir that inspiration, that we might each become the saint of the 21st century that Jesus is calling us to be, that God has made us to be and that the Holy Spirit is empowering us to be.

With every blessing.

Fr Simon