They have bad “records”. All know their stories.
Peter is quick-tempered. After years living with his Teacher Jesus, who had been taking good care of him, guiding him and even entrusting him with the position of leadership, he still ran real quick when Jesus was in danger. Then when he was ‘discovered’, he denied Jesus not only once but three times. Peter was so coward that he betrayed his beloved Teacher.
Paul was zealous but so blindly passionate that he became an extremist. He volunteered to go seek and persecute the first followers of Jesus. Anywhere he went, there was terror. Paul was a nightmare to them. Obviously, many Christians suffered because of him.
If we compare these bad “records” of Peter and Paul with good reputation of many people, we may conclude that they are less “virtuous”. However, each year on June 29, the whole universal Church honors them as its two polars. Well, are they really great saints? Yes, they are!
What is honorable about Peter and Paul is not the negative things mentioned above. Their holiness and greatness began at the moment they “restarted” their lives in the love and strength of Jesus Christ. Their holiness and greatness result from their being deeply rooted in God. After his falling, Peter “turned back” and was determined to fulfill the will of his Teacher: “Peter, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Lc 22:32). He was committed himself to proclaiming and witnessing the Good News of the Risen Lord. Many other brothers and sisters, thanks to his witness, were transformed to be happy. Peter went all the way to the end on his following Jesus. The most shining moment of his love for Jesus and others was when he was willing to offer his life the last time on a cross, an upside down cross at his request as a sign of humility of a disciple.
Paul turned from acting like an extremist against the followers of Jesus to being an passionate witness of His Gospel. Ever since he has so immersed in the spirit of love of Jesus that he ought to confess: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me.” (Galatians 2:20) His discovery of Jesus became so precious a treasure that he considered everything else as “rubbish” (Philippians 3:8). The Gospel of Jesus was his way of life, his food, his everything. He could not help telling it to others: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1Cor 9:16). Like Peter, Paul also helped many brothers and sisters reach their happiness by knowing Jesus. At the climax of Paul’s journey, the citizens of Rome witnessed his total love of Jesus when he courageously professed his faith in martyrdom.
Dear friend, it is the second part of Peter and Paul’s lives that is worthy of our profound admiration, gratitude and imitation. If the first part is colored by their falling, the second part focuses on their restarting new lives after having experienced Jesus’ touch and healing. If the first relies on human strength, the second is firmly rooted and stands strong in God. If the first is about human limitation, the second is about the might of God.
Dear friend, we speak about all this in order to speak about one thing that is much more important for our lives. What is it? It is: No matter who we are, God is always in us and invites us to cooperate with Him. He never gets discouraged by our weaknesses, our sins or our brokenness. God never loses hope in anyone. He always awaits our “coming back” as He awaited that of Peter and Paul. Dear friend, this is the Good News for us today as we look at saints Peter and Paul. Today is the opportunity for us to be reminded that although we do have moments of falling in sin and hence deviating or going astray from God, we are still encouraged to “come back” in peace to our Father, who loves us unconditionally and is always willing to put his confidence in us. We always have one more chance to be saints.
Joseph Viet, O.Carm: