It seems a bit unusual to me, that two of the greatest saints in our church share a feast day. But maybe it is better that way, in that we do not try to set one of the saints against another, but rather rejoice in their cooperation for the good of the kingdom of God.
Saint Peter was chosen by Jesus to be the leader of the Apostles. He called him from a life of a fisherman to become first a disciple and then an Apostle and leader. Simon Peter did not choose himself, although he did say yes to the Lord. Rather, he was called by Jesus and he was given the gift of faith. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God Peter said. It was not Simon Peter’s own intelligence that figured that out. Neither was it his will or wishful thinking that made Jesus to be who He was. Rather Jesus was truly the Son of God, and God the Father revealed this truth to Simon Peter. At the time he said it, Peter did not realize the full meaning of the words the Son of God, but he did not have to know. The same God who revealed him this truth would later give him the Holy Spirit to understand more deeply what it was that he was preaching.
After Saint Peter made his profession of faith with the knowledge given to him by God the Father, Jesus proceeded to name rock and declare His intent to build the Church upon him. We might look at the life of Simon Peter before the descent of the Holy Spirit and not see a rock. We might even say the same thing about him even after this event. But that does not matter. Jesus is the one doing the choosing, God is the one working through History to accomplish His purposes.
In spite of his many weaknesses, the characteristics of Simon Peter that stand out was his love and his trust of the Lord. Peter knew that he did not know everything (remeber he said to Jesus where shall we go, Lord, you have the words of eternal life). He knew that he was not perfect (after the miraculous catch of fish, he said depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man). He knew that he was chosen by Jesus just because that is what Jesus had wanted. Even when Peter had denied even knowing who Jesus was, he did not walk away or despair of the Lord’s mercy. He said rather Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you. Jesus did not take away Peter’s authority, but rather called him to a more profound relationship. The Lord has done similar for us. He has called us, he will give us what we need, and if we fall into sin, and turn to Jesus in trust, the Lord will heal us and call us to a more profound relationship also.
Saint Paul shares today’s feast with Saint Peter. In fact, today we begin a special Pauline year in which the Holy Father Pope Benedict calls us to reflect on the life and teaching of Saint Paul, the man whom the great theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas called simply The Apostle.
Saint Paul was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. Because he was born in the city of Tarsus, Paul enjoyed the rights of Roman citizenship (for example he could appeal the emperor if he was charge with a crime). Paul was taught by his father how to be a tent maker, a trade which he practiced throughout his adult life. Paul also was highly educated in the Bible, studying with the leading teachers of his day. He was filled with zeal for the Lord, and originally he persecuted the Church with all his strength. But God chose Paul to bring the Gospel to many people. And although Paul described himself as a super zealous Jew, he became the instrument of conversion for non-Jews, to fulfill the promise of salvation given to all peoples through the prophets. Whenever we look at someone and think that it would be impossible for them to be converted, or impossible that he or she could serve God, we ought to look at Saint Paul. God cannot be thwarted. Rather, the Lord continues to call people according to His will for the spread of the Gospel.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Saint Paul remarked that he was being poured out like a libation. The word libation refers to an common form of sacrifice to a god used in the past. It was the act of pouring wine or oil or other drinkables out on the ground or an altar. Even the Jews practiced libations as a way to honor the Living and True God. We can see in the Passion of Jesus, the pouring out of His blood for the glory of the Father and salvation of the world. We can see in Baptism the pouring out of the Spirit to make us the children of God the Father. And we can see in Pentecost the pouring out of the Spirit and power for the evangelization of the world.
God called each of these two great saints to spread the good news of our salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. But Peter and Paul were not called simply to proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes again in glory. They were likewise called to share in it. Peter died by crucifixion and Paul by the sword. By saying he was being poured out like a libation, Saint Paul is identifying himself as a sacrifice for the Lord. It was not sufficient for him to speak, he rather wanted to live the life of Christ within himself, which including living the death of Christ for the glory of God.
We look at these two saints and say that is nice, weren’t they great, now let’s go get breakfast. Not so fast. God has called us to do the same. Maybe we are not called to be apostles, or bishops, or the pope (Saint Paul was not even called to that). But we are called through our Baptism to proclaim the word of the Lord. We were chosen and given the gift of faith, just like Peter was by the Father to know who Jesus was, just like Paul who stated that he did did not receive it (the Gospel) from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. We were given the faith so that we could share it with others. And sharing the faith is more than just words. It is more than just action. Sharing our faith includes being poured out like a libation- that is, sacrifice our whole self in service to God.