STs. Peter and Paul Cycle A June 29, 2014

That sure is an awful lot of power to give to a fisherman; “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

It’s a good thing Peter never went to Foxwoods! Or buy scratch tickets!

But, once again, that’s an awful lot of persuasion, influence, and power to hand to one person, fisherman or no fisherman. Yet that’s what Jesus does. Either Jesus is a little off the mark with Peter, or, he completely trusts his disciple and lead Apostle. Either Jesus is speaking words of wishful thinking here, giving all this binding and loosing to Peter and believing it is somehow going to work out, or, he knows that Peter will be fair, just, merciful, and kind.

Just like Pope Francis, the present Peter, was recently fair and just with the Mafia. He was honest, caring, just, and forthright when he declared them excommunicated for behavior not becoming of a human being. For behavior that is downright evil. It’s good to know that the binding and loosing that Jesus handed to the first Pope is still in effect with our present Pope.

As we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, let’s do so by studying closely why it was that Jesus called both of these Apostles, each in their own way; why our Lord gave them so much power and authority, an amount of power that even the worst dictators can only dream of; and what they did with such responsibility.

First, whenever we commemorate this day in the Church every June 29, no matter what day of the week it falls on, I always think of the well-known German theologian known for his own martyrdom at the end of World War II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think of his words that ring so true as connected to Peter and Paul; “When God calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Women are not exempt from those words of Bonhoeffer. “When God calls a man, he bids him come and die.” To self? Yes. But sometimes also to one’s death in the body. Those words are a stark reminder of Saints Peter and Paul. But really, all the martyrs in the Church. But I’m drawn to these two most especially because these are the two who held the most authority and responsibility. And we learn from them.

Peter, because he answered correctly the most significant question in all of Scripture, “Who do you say that I am?” If it was me asking someone the question about myself, the answer would be, “Who cares who you are!” But it’s Jesus asking. And Peter answers correctly. He probably thought he was going to get a gold star on his apostle forehead. Rather, Peter got the Cross for his correct answer.

And Paul, because he was so gifted, talented, successful and so good at persecuting Christians, Jesus had to personally intervene, knock him on his rear-end, and infuse Paul with unmerited grace and mercy. And the irony with Paul is that, as he persecuted, so in turn was he roundly persecuted for the sake of the name he once despised. It is believed he had his head chopped off, in like manner of John the Baptist.

First, why Jesus called Peter and Paul from their unique backgrounds, in his own way, is rather easy to understand. They were both simple. In the best meaning of the word “simple.” A fisherman and a tentmaker. They were like you and me. I’ve been saying this to the parents of most of those baptized since I returned from visiting a number of the saints in Italy in April. All those great saints were simple, ordinary, regular men and women – with issues like the rest of us – that God did extraordinary things with. And that there is no reason their child – or any of us – cannot be a saint for the Church. Don’t look for your children to do great things. Pray to allow God to do great things through them. This is Peter and Paul, and all the saints, martyrs or not a martyr. Be open to God’s will, and simplicity and its loving power will be realized.

Second, why does Jesus give them so much power? Why does our Lord entrust Peter with binding and loosing on earth, thus allowed in heaven? And Paul, why is he entrusted with such authority to preach the Good News after his many evil actions against God’s people? You would think Paul to be the last person to be entrusted with such an assignment.

There’s a word that St. Paul uses a number of times in his epistles, and it’s the word “imitation.” He writes, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Now imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. But here it doesn’t mean to mimic a person for laughter’s sake. Paul uses the word for Christians to mimic, to a tee, the Master and Savior of the world. So why so much power? Because Jesus knew they would mimic his divine power, and not abuse it and play some worldly game of power. Pope Francis is not playing a power game with the Mafia. He’s using divine power granted to him by Christ to draw some people away from their evil ways and learn how to love.

Jesus could give keys to Peter that open and close heaven’s door, and give persuasion to Paul through the Spirit, and know they could be entrusted to use them for the right purposes of salvation. Power is made perfect in weakness, writes St. Paul. Meaning, our power is made perfect when our will seeks to be perfectly in sync with Christ.

And third, what did they do with their power? They drew people to Christ, through tenderness and truth, and at times through toughness.  What God started through them continues today. Which is why Pope Francis can excommunicate the Mafia. Tell them that their lives are outside of the Body of Christ. That their money is blood money. And that they need to reform and convert, otherwise, in the words of the Pontiff, they will be going to hell. This is a clear example of binding and loosing, of caring for souls in ways they will understand. They may not like it, but they will understand it.

Peter and Paul; simplicity; living for Christ and not ourselves; and leading others to God, even with tough language at times if necessary.

We would do well to imitate those who imitated Christ so well.