Monday, June 29, 2009

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles Vigil

“Apostles Peter and Paul”
by El Greco, c. 1592
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Readings for the Vigil of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul [1][2]

Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1:
Acts 3:1-10

Peter and John were going up to the temple area
for the three o'clock hour of prayer.
And a man crippled from birth was carried
and placed at the gate of the temple called "the Beautiful Gate"
every day to beg for alms from the people who entered the temple.
When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple,
he asked for alms.
But Peter looked intently at him, as did John,
and said, "Look at us."
He paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them.
Peter said, "I have neither silver nor gold,
but what I do have I give you:
in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk."
Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up,
and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong.
He leaped up, stood, and walked around,
and went into the temple with them,
walking and jumping and praising God.
When all the people saw the man walking and praising God,
they recognized him as the one who used to sit begging
at the Beautiful Gate of the temple,
and they were filled with amazement and astonishment
at what had happened to him.
Commentary on
Acts 3:1-10

This dramatic cure of the lame beggar is the first miracle worked by the Apostles and begins a series of events that place by the disciples in the footsteps of Jesus. "'This cure,' says St John Chrysostom, 'testifies to the resurrection of Christ, of which it is an image. [...] Observe that they do not go up to the temple with the intention of performing a miracle, so clear were they of ambition, so closely did they imitate their Master' (Hom, on Acts, 8)."[15]

In this first action, the beggar is cured in the name of Jesus and immediately he is led into the temple area. The symbolism here is that Jesus heals us and leads us to faith. The miraculous cure also serves a secondary purpose. In addition to demonstrating the power of God’s intense love invoked through the name of Jesus, it also serves to draw a large crowd to hear the kerygmatic discourse of St. Peter which follows.

CCC: Acts 3:1 584; Acts 3:9 2640
Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 19:2-3, 4-5

R. (5) Their message goes out through all the earth.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day pours out the word to day;
and night to night imparts knowledge.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.

Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.
Commentary on
Ps 19:2-3, 4-5

Psalm 19 is a hymn of praise. In these opening strophes, the psalmist rejoices in God’s visible hand, revealed in all creation. It is the first of two themes expressed in the psalm (the other is in praise of the Law). While no word of God announces his presence, his glory is revealed in the creation of all things.

CCC: Ps 19:2-5 299; Ps 19:2 326
Reading II:
Galatians 1:11-20

I want you to know, brothers and sisters,
that the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin.
For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it,
but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

For you heard of my former way of life in Judaism,
how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure
and tried to destroy it, and progressed in Judaism
beyond many of my contemporaries among my race,
since I was even more a zealot for my ancestral traditions.
But when God, who from my mother's womb had set me apart
and called me through his grace,
was pleased to reveal his Son to me,
so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles,
I did not immediately consult flesh and blood,
nor did I go up to Jerusalem
to those who were Apostles before me;
rather, I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem
to confer with Cephas and remained with him for fifteen days.
But I did not see any other of the Apostles,
only James the brother of the Lord.
--As to what I am writing to you, behold,
before God, I am not lying.
Commentary on
Gal 1:11-20

St. Paul continues the defense of his authority, challenged by other evangelists who came after him to the churches of Galatia. The apostle begins this passage with a short history about his own formation in Judaism. He goes further relating how he was once the inquisitor assigned to persecute the Christians on behalf of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (recall it was young Saul who authorized the stoning of St. Stephen, see Acts 7:58  8:3).

St. Paul importantly mentions: “when he, who from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace,” a clear reference to his parents presenting him at the temple, and dedicating him according to Prophetic Tradition. He links God’s action in setting him apart directly to Jesus, the Son of God.

St. Paul goes on to describe his early ministry, where he was directed by Jesus in his call without consultation to the Apostles in Jerusalem, whom he only met briefly after three years. The time frame mentioned here is likely imprecise, but underscores St. Paul’s “Gospel” as being authorized and approved by St. Peter.

CCC: Gal 1:13 752; Gal 1:15-16 442; Gal 1:15 153; Gal 1:16 659; Gal 1:19 500; Gal 1:20 2154
John 21:15-19

Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples
and, when they had finished breakfast, said to Simon Peter,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
He said to him, "Tend my sheep."
He said to him the third time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
"Do you love me?" and he said to him,
"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go."
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."
Commentary on Jn 21:15-19

This selection describes events following the passion and resurrection. Jesus has already revealed himself to the disciples in the “locked room.” He now addresses himself to St. Peter. St. Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times during the night of the Lord’s arrest. He now recants that betrayal with a threefold response to Jesus' questions.

The First Vatican Council cited these verses in defining that Jesus, after his resurrection, gave St. Peter the jurisdiction of supreme shepherd and ruler over the whole flock. It is interesting to note that this section of St. John’s Gospel is referred to by scripture scholars as “Peter’s rehabilitation.”

CCC: Jn 21:13-15 645; Jn 21:15-17 553, 881, 1429, 1551; Jn 20:19 575, 643, 645, 659

Today we celebrate two Apostles, one who traveled with Jesus and was the leader of the disciples during the life of Jesus on earth, the other a persecutor of the disciples until he himself was chosen by the Lord as an instrument. Two very different backgrounds but called together for a common purpose, building the kingdom of God on earth.

How different were their calls to that single purpose. Peter, Simon the fisherman who left his profession to follow Jesus. He was called almost, it seemed, by accident, as his brother, who was a disciple of John the Baptist, told him one day: “We have found the Messiah.” From that day until the terrible night in the courtyard outside the house of Caiaphas, when he denied the Lord, he was a frequently reluctant student. We hear the Lord, in today’s Gospel, take that flawed student, now renamed and recreated through the Holy Spirit, give him the keys to the Kingdom, and establish him as our first Vicar of Christ.

Paul (Saul), on the other hand, was a traditional Jew, brought up and educated to become a member of the Sanhedrin. We first encounter him as he approves of the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. Was he unwittingly promoting the faith even then? His zeal for Hebrew orthodoxy made him the perfect instrument of the Temple in Jerusalem. He was sent to eliminate these “Christians,” who flaunted their authority by saying the Messiah had already come.

They sent Paul to Damascus, but a funny thing happened on that road. The Lord, from his home at the right hand of the Father, reached down and snatched Saul, now Paul from the hands of the Temple leadership, and created his own tool to take God’s word to the world. Paul’s oratory training would be put to good use as he first challenged the Jews in Antioch, and then all around the region, debating the pagan Greeks and Romans, and establishing churches throughout that part of the world. Christ took this flawed and sinful man, filled with hate for God’s children, and turned him into a force that lovingly invited the world to come to Christ.

Our celebration today is of St. Peter, first Pontiff of the Church and St. Paul, the great Evangelist. Even more, today we celebrate the Church, looking in and reaching out. We thank God for taking unlikely instruments and making them forces that shook the world. In our awe, we ask him to take our humble efforts and continue their noble work.


[1] S.S. Commemoratio
[2] The picture is “Apostles Peter and Paul” by El Greco, c. 1592
[3] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.

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