ECAUSE OF THE HIGH ranking of today’s feast, it takes precedence over the Sunday’s celebration or liturgy. In fact, it is one of the ten Holy Days of Obligation in the Universal Church, although it has never been observed as such in the United States. But it has been in some counties, e.g. in Italy.
Today’s Feast is important because the Saints whom we are celebrating are very important. In some respects we can say that they are the saints on whom our Church was founded. St. Peter was the First Pope. It was to him that our Lord said, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” I don’t deny that nowadays we might hear different translations or renditions of these lines. I’m not here to argue or quibble about that. I would like to think that we all know what our Lord meant when He said these words. He was establishing His Church upon the rock or foundation of the Papacy.
And even though the devil or the forces of evil would try to destroy the Church, they would never succeed. That would not mean that they would not try and that they would not keep on trying. And that would not mean that at times it may seem that they might be succeeding. And at times, the gates of hell or the forces of evil might prevail or win out in certain parts of the world. But they would never succeed in completely destroying the Church.
One of the interesting things about the study of Church history is to see how the Church had to struggle in the past. I am sure that different historians have different opinions as to which was the worst or hardest period for the Church. It probably goes without saying that the people who actually had to undergo the difficult times would have thought their times were the worst times. That is very understandable. The past is past. While we can learn a lot from it, our main concern is the present.
RECENTLY, OUR PRESENT HOLY FATHER Pope Francis said that there is more persecution of Christians going on now than ever before in the history of the Church. To some that may seem a bit of an exaggeration, but I am sure he must have his reasons for what he said. It is certainly becoming more difficult to stand up for and live by ordinary Christian principles of morality which years ago everyone took for granted. Just think about laws and regulations about the sanctity of life and the holiness of marriage. Violations that are now commonplace and legally ‘permissible’ were almost universally considered wrong by everyone.
Sts. Peter and Paul lived in what we consider pagan Roman times. And yet some of the outrageous crimes, such as same-sex marriage were never ‘legalized’ during their time. At least I never recall hearing of that in my studies of Roman history. Yes, they were put to death because of their belief in Christ. That hasn’t become a crime for us, yet. But who knows?
In all honesty, I must admit that this sermon developed way differently than I originally anticipated. I was going to begin by saying that in many respects St. Peter and St. Paul were very different characters. St. Peter did not seem to be too well educated; he was a fisherman by trade; he was rather impetuous; he often seemed to speak before he thought. St. Paul was certainly more educated; he was a tent-maker by trade; he seemed to be more aggressive and argumentative. You don’t have to agree on these observations. The one thing that both of these men had in common was their tremendous love for Jesus. Both gave their lives’ work for Him and then laid down their lives for Him. When one enters Vatican City, their statues are so prominent. Yes, God used these two men to get His Church established here on earth. And I am sure it is through their intercession in heaven that the Church is still going.
We have witnessed some trying and difficult times for the Church in our lifetime. And I can’t predict if the worst is now over or is still to come. Whatever is to be, will be, but God’s grace will be there. As Christ once said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” And whether good days or bad days lie ahead, the Church will forge ahead, because Jesus has told us that the gates of hell will not prevail, that in the long run, the devil will not win out.
We hope you enjoyed this homily by Fr. Valentine Young, OFM.