St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
Although the Catholic Church celebrates the festival of St. Peter and St. Paul today, yet, as the office and Mass of tomorrow are especially appointed for the commemoration of St. Paul, we will give today to St. Peter and tomorrow to St. Paul. Peter, the prince of the Apostles, the visible head of the Christian Church, the Vicar of Christ on earth, was born at Bethsaida, a small town in Galilee, on the Sea of Genesareth. Before he became a follower of Christ, he was called Simon, and his father Jonas or John. He married Perpetua, a daughter of Aristobulus, but left her afterwards for Christ's sake. Andrew, his elder brother, was a disciple of John the Baptist. As soon as the latter had heard, from the lips of his holy teacher, that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah, and had convinced himself of the fact by a conversation with Christ, he informed his brother Simon of it and went with him to the Saviour. Christ, looking at Simon, said: "Thou art Simon, the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas," which means the same as Peter or a rock. After having had some discourses with Christ, Peter again went home, and announced to others the advent of the true Messiah.
Some time later, Christ walked by the Sea of Galilee and saw Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. Christ said to them: "Come ye after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed Him; and from that moment, Peter left the Saviour no more, but followed Him whithersoever He went. The Gospel allows us no doubt that our Lord showed on all occasions a peculiar affection for Peter. He went into Peter's ship and out of it taught the multitudes pressing to hear Him. He took him to Mount Thabor to His transfiguration. He desired to have him near when He raised Jairus' daughter from the dead, and also when His sufferings commenced on Mount Olivet. He promised to build His Church so strongly upon him, that not even the gates of hell should prevail against it. He said that He would give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, adding, that whatsoever Peter should bind or loose on earth, should be bound or loosed in heaven. He prayed especially for Peter, that his faith might not fail, and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren. When Peter had denied Him, He looked at him so compassionately that He moved his heart to repentance. After the Resurrection, Christ appeared to him especially and appointed him as the shepherd over His flock, made him His Vicar on earth and the visible head of His church.
We find, however, in the Gospel also, that Peter showed peculiar humility, faith and devotion towards our Lord. When he, obeying Christ's command, let down his net into the sea and filled two boats with fishes, he deemed himself unworthy of the presence of the Lord, and falling down at His feet, he said: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." When the Saviour would wash his feet, he cried in astonishment: "Lord dost thou wash my feet? this shall never be done!" But when he heard Christ's menace: "If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with me," he submitted to the Saviour's will and said: "Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head." He evinced clearly his faith in Christ, when he made the magnificent confession: "Thou art Christ, the son of the living God!" His love for the Redeemer was manifested on different occasions. Several disciples of Christ left Him one day, not willing to listen further to His teachings, and Christ asked his Apostles; "Will ye also leave me?" Peter answered: "Lord, to whom should we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." Love would not allow him to think of leaving.
At another time, Christ mentioned His approaching passion, and Peter, not yet comprehending the mystery of the Redemption, would prevent Him, and said: "Lord, be it far from thee: this shall not be unto thee." He would not consent that the object of his affection should suffer. Peter's love to Christ was the cause of his twice throwing himself into the sea to be so much sooner with Him. He would not and could not wait until the boat, in which he was with the other disciples, had landed. Out of the heart of Peter, so full of devotion to his Divine Master, came also the fearless words, that he was ready to go with Him to prison and to death, and that if all were to forsake Him, he would not leave Him. To humble his too great confidence in himself, the contrary happened; for, Peter left Christ in the garden and denied Him three times at the house of Caiphas; but no sooner did the crowing of the cock bring to his memory the prophecy of the Lord, and no sooner had the compassionate eye of the latter fallen on him, than he repented of his fault with bitter tears. There is no doubt that God pardoned him, but it is emphatically stated in the life of the holy Apostle, that he daily repented of this denial as long as he lived; and that in the night, when he heard the cock crow, he shed floods of tears at the remembrance of it.
After Christ's resurrection, Peter was asked three times by the Saviour if he loved Him more than the others. And three times Peter answered: "Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee." With this repeated confession of his love, Christ was so well pleased, that He entrusted to him all His flock with the words: "Feed my lambs: Feed my sheep." This charge Peter began to administer soon after Christ's ascension, when he admonished the assembled apostles and disciples to choose another apostle in the place of the traitor Judas; and also when, on Pentecost, after having received the Holy Ghost, he preached the first sermon to the Jews, with such zeal and fervency, that three thousand of them were at once converted. He was also the first who confirmed the teachings of the Gospel by miracles. The first of these he wrought on a lame beggar, who daily asked alms at the gate of the temple. Peter said to him: "Silver and gold I have none; but what I have I give thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk." And at the same moment, the man, who had been lame from his birth, arose and walked.
This first miracle was followed by many others, and as holy Writ relates, Peter's shadow falling upon the sick, was sufficient to restore them to health. When the High Priests of the Jews commanded Peter and the other apostles to preach no more of Christ, Peter replied: "If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye." And again, at another time, he said: "We ought to obey God rather than men." Hence he did not discontinue to announce Christ as the true Messiah, although, on account of it, he was cast into prison and scourged. He was also the first, who, following a divine inspiration, preached the Gospel to the Gentiles, as is related in the 10th Chapter of the Acts.
What more this Prince of the Apostles did to disseminate the true faith, cannot be told in a few words. He travelled through all Judaea, and preached and wrought miracles wherever he went. He restored, in one moment, the health of Aeneas, who had been suffering of the palsy for eight years, and raised Tabitha, a pious widow, to life. Later he went into several other countries, laying everywhere the first stone of Christianity, consecrated bishops and priests, who were to govern the newly founded churches. His first See he established at Antioch, and remained there seven years, but announcing also in many other places the Gospel of the Lord. He then went to Rome, where idolatry had built her principal temples. Thence he sent his disciples, who were all animated with apostolic zeal, to Spain, France, Sicily, Germany, and other countries, to preach the Christian faith.
He himself fixed his See at Rome, and by his sermons converted numberless heathens. When, nine years later, he was driven away from Rome, with many Christians, he went to Jerusalem, and visited the newly converted in those parts, comforted and cheered them, preached to those who were still in the darkness of unbelief, and then returned to Rome, where he brilliantly defeated the magician Simon. The latter had, by his magic, not only blinded the Emperor Nero, but also the Roman people, and had prevented many from embracing the true faith. Peter discovered his fraud, and to confirm the doctrines he taught, he raised a dead person to life, which Simon endeavored to do, but had not the power. After this, the magician appointed a day on which he, in evidence of the truth until now taught by him, would ascend visibly to heaven. The day came and Simon, assisted by the devil, was really raised from the ground. Peter, however, prayed, and then commanded the devil to depart and behold! the imposter fell down, broke his legs, and had to be carried away covered with grief and shame.
This splendid miracle opened the eyes of many unbelievers, who desired to be baptized. But Nero, of whom Simon was a great favorite, was enraged against St. Peter, and had him cast into a dungeon with St. Paul. The faithful, with tearful eyes, begged St. Peter to escape in order to preserve his life and take care of them. Love to his flock persuaded the holy apostle to fulfil their wish. Having already arrived at the gates of the city, he met Christ, and, amazed as this vision, he asked Him: "Master, whither goest thou?" "I go into the city to be crucified again," replied the Lord. The apostle, comprehending these words, returned to his prison and remained there until Nero gave the order, that Peter, as a Jew, should be crucified, and Paul, as a Roman citizen, should be beheaded.
When the appointed day had arrived, Peter was scourged and then fastened to a cross. The joy which he manifested in suffering thus for his faith awakened the admiration of all present. He requested that the cross might be raised in such a manner that his head would hang down, as he deemed himself unworthy to die like his Saviour. His wish was complied with, and the Saint thus painfully ended his holy life. Marcellus, a priest, buried him upon the Vatican Hill, where his relics are still honored by the Christian world. The books of the holy Fathers are filled with praise of the deeds of this glorious Apostle, this first Pope and Vicar of Christ.
How sad a downfall! Peter, who had been during three years a devoted follower of Christ, and had, only a short time before, publicly recognized Him, in the presence of all the other disciples, as the son of the living God, who, a few hours before, had boldly declared that he would not be scandalized in Christ if all others were, and that he would follow Him to death;-- denied Christ thrice in one night. How sad a fall! According to the opinion of St. Augustine, our Lord permitted this, first, because Peter relied too much on his own strength: secondly, that Peter, whom Christ intended to be His Vicar, should feel compassion when great sinners would come to him and ask forgiveness of their misdeeds; as he would know, by his own experience, how weak man is and how easily he falls. May you derive from it the following lesson. Despise no one who has committed great wrong, especially if such a one has repented and is on the way to a better life. Never reproach him with his crimes; but think that you have perhaps committed as great sin or would have done so, had you been placed in the same dangers, the same temptations, the same sufferings. If you have not fallen like him, be not conceited; but give thanks to the Almighty for shielding you so graciously, and take care that you do not fall. Secondly: never trust too implicitly in your own strength, and when you make the resolution to avoid this or that sin, or to do a good work, always pray to God to give you grace to keep your promise. This is especially necessary, early in the morning, when you ought to pray to God to assist you in all dangers and temptations. Lay the above deeply to heart, that it may take root and bear life-giving fruit.
As soon as Christ looked compassionately on Peter, thus reproaching him with his fault, the latter, weeping bitterly went away from the place where he had sinned, and with his whole heart, repented of his misdeed. This repentance he continued while he lived, although he had the assurance that Christ had forgiven him. Let this be an example of true penance to you. Do not continue in the sin you have committed; repent with your whole heart, out of love to the Almighty, and confess it, as soon as possible, to a priest. Avoid all occasion to do wrong; else your repentance is not true, your confession void, your penance false and without benefit. But even when you have done all that was necessary to free you from your guilt, still, so long as life lasts, never cease to repent of the evil you committed, and to beg God to pardon you, as you are not certain, as Peter was, that your sins are forgiven, although you may hope it. All true penitents act in this manner. King David, in the old Testament, was assured, by the mouth of the prophet, that his sins were forgiven; yet he repented of them; daily. How often he asked God to forgive him may be seen in his Psalms. "I will wash my bed, I will water my couch with my tears," says he. (Ps. vi.) Somewhere else he says, that he has shed rivers of tears, at the remembrance of his iniquities. "In one night he committed sin," writes Saint Chrysostom, "and he wept over it all other nights." " Today," writes St. James of Nisibis, "people pass many whole nights in sin, and think that a single hour's weeping over them is sufficient."
May you not act thus. Follow the examples of King David and St. Peter, and let not a day pass without repenting of your sins and praying to God to forgive them. "We
must wash away, by continual tears, the iniquity of which we have even once been guilty," is another admonition of St. James.
Hymn: Beate Pastor, Petre
Peter, blest Shepherd, hearken to our cry,
And with a word unloose our guilty chain;
Thou! who hast power to ope the gates on high
To men below, and power to shut them fast again.
Lead us, great teacher Paul, in wisdom's ways,
And lift our hearts with thine to heaven's high throne;
Till faith beholds the clear meridian blaze;
And sunlike in the soul reigns charity alone.
Praise, blessing, majesty, through endless days,
Be to the Trinity immortal given;
Who in pure unity profoundly sways
Eternally alike all things in earth and heaven.
St. Paul, Apostle
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
St. Paul, the great Apostle and Doctor of the Gentiles, was born a Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin. His native place was Tarsus, a celebrated city in Cilicia. His father sent him to Jerusalem, where he was educated by the famous Gamaliel, not only in the law but in all the ceremonies of the Hebrews. He soon surpassed all his schoolmates in knowledge, and became zealous in maintaining and defending the laws; and consequently, he was one of the most cruel persecutors of Christianity. It was he who kept the garments of those who stoned Stephen. The older he grew, the more deeply rooted became his hatred of the Christians. Not only at Jerusalem, but also in other places, he sought for those confessing Christ and delivered them into the hands of the authorities for imprisonment.
One day, he requested a commission from the High Priest at Jerusalem to the Jews at Damascus, by virtue of which they were to aid him in apprehending all the Christians that were residing there. With this order, he went, full of rage and hatred, to Damascus.
When he was near the city, he suddenly beheld a light from heaven which shone around him. Saul, (this was his name before his conversion), fell in affright to the ground and heard a voice saying: "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" "Who art thou, Lord?" asked Saul. "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest," said the voice from heaven. Although Saul trembled at these words, he answered: "Lord what wilt thou have me to do?" The Lord replied: "Arise and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do." Saul's companions heard the voice, but saw no one. Saul arose from the ground, opened his eyes, but saw nothing, having lost his sight. Having been led to Damascus, he remained three days and nights in prayer, tasting neither food nor drink. Meanwhile Ananias, a disciple of the Lord, was informed in a vision of all that had taken place, and, going into the house where Saul was, he instructed him, restored his sight by laying his hands on him, and baptized him.
Soon after receiving holy baptism, Saul, now named Paul, went into the Synagogue, and preaching boldly that Christ was the true and long-promised Messiah, he proved the truth of his words so clearly that no one could gainsay them. All were amazed at the change that had taken place in him, and, not able to refute his doctrines, they consulted together to kill him. The faithful, however, let him down in a basket over the walls of the city, and thus he escaped death. After this, he went to Jerusalem and desired to join the Christians there; but as they knew nothing of his conversion, they were afraid of him and would not receive him among them. Paul finding St. Barnabas, who had been his schoolmate, related to him what had taken place, and was by him brought to the apostles, who rejoiced greatly at his conversion, and gave due thanks and praise to God.
From this time, St. Paul preached the Gospel everywhere with great ardor, journeyed through many cities, lands and kingdoms, brought many thousands to Christianity, and sent many apostolic men into different countries to convert the inhabitants. Who can give an account of his cares and labors, the disgrace arid derision, the misery and persecution which he suffered for the true Faith? He himself relates it in his Epistles, particularly in the eleventh chapter of the second Epistle to the Corinthians. The same is done by St. Luke in the Acts. Among other things, he says that a prophet had told St. Paul, when the latter was about to go from Caesarea to Jerusalem, that they would seize him at that place and deliver him to the heathens. Hence his disciples would not allow him to depart; but neither tears nor prayers could detain him. "I, am ready," said he, "not only to be bound in Jerusalem, but also to die for the name of Jesus."
He proved his words by deeds. When he arrived at Jerusalem, he immediately went into the temple to pray, but hardly had the Jews seen him,when they fell upon him, dragged him out of the temple and would certainly have killed him with their blows, had not the Tribune, Claudius Lysias, hastily appeared with his soldiers and released him from their fury. He, however, took him prisoner and sent him to Caesarea to the Governor Felix, who, although he found him innocent, kept him in prison. Festus, his successor, would have sent him back to Jerusalem that he might be judged there, but Paul appealed to the Emperor and was sent to Rome,where, after two years of imprisonment, he was set at liberty. The Saint then began again his apostolic labors, travelled through Italy and France, ventured even to Spain, preaching the Gospel everywhere and converting a great number of people.
At last, he returned to Rome, and among others, he exhorted some concubines of the godless Emperor Nero, to forsake their wicked life. When he had so far succeeded in converting them that, in their love of chastity, none of them would longer submit to the tyrant's lust, the enraged Nero gave orders to imprison St. Paul as well as St. Peter. Somewhat later, both were condemned to die, Peter upon the Cross, Paul by the sword. St. Chrysostom relates that the blood that flowed from the body of St. Paul when he was beheaded, was not red, but milk-white. It is also said that his head, when severed from his body, sprang up three times from the ground, and that, each time, water gushed forth. To this day, three springs, which are shown at the place where his execution took place, confirm the tradition.
St. Paul was undoubtedly favoured with special graces and virtues. He wrought many and great miracles. By the touch of his handkerchief, the sick were immediately restored and the possessed released. He had many visions both of angels and of Christ, the Lord, Himself. Once, during a tempest on the sea, an angel appeared to him announcing that for his sake, the Almighty would spare the lives of all that were in the ship. At Corinth, our Lord appeared to him and said: "Fear not, but speak: be not silent." At Jerusalem, He visited him again, saying: "Hasten, quickly leave Jerusalem;" and at another time the Saviour said to him: "Be constant; for, as thou hast given testimony of me at Jerusalem, so must thou do at Rome." Besides these comforting visions, the holy Apostle had the grace to be carried up, in an ecstasy, to the third heaven, to see there such great mysteries, that he was incapable of speaking of them.
His heavenly wisdom and eloquence are clearly manifested in his epistles, the reading of which has occasioned many miraculous conversions. They also give evidence of the great virtue of this holy Apostle, especially of his fervent love to the Saviour and towards his neighbor; of the purity of his life; his humility, austere penance and invincible patience. He loved his crucified Redeemer so much, that he could write: "I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me. Christ is my life. I am fastened on the Cross with Christ. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? I am convinced that neither life, nor death, neither height nor depth, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God which is manifested in our Lord, Jesus Christ." He gloried in nothing save in the Cross of the Saviour. The holy name of Jesus was constantly in his mouth and proceeded constantly from his pen.
He gave equal proofs of his love for his neighbor. The many and laborious voyages which he undertook, the many and great dangers and persecutions which he suffered, the inexpressibly great labor and care which he took upon himself, show how unselfishly he loved his neighbor. His zeal to save souls was insatiable, and his solicitude for the welfare of others, more than fatherly. He loved the newly converted like dear children and carried them all, as he said, in his heart before God. He kept his chastity inviolate, advised others to do the same, and showed, by his deeds, how we must fight against impure temptations; that is, by taking refuge with God in prayer and chastising his body with hunger and thirst, heat and cold, fasting and watching. With all his great deeds and the many graces he had received from the Almighty, he was so humble, that he more than once confessed the wickedness with which he had treated the Christians before his conversion; and though he worked more than all the others, he called himself the least of Apostles. His great love for Christ and his hope of an eternal reward cheered him, as he writes, in all that he had to suffer. On account of these and other virtues, to relate all of which would fill many books, there can be no doubt that St. Paul is raised to great glory in heaven. At the time of his death, he was 68 years old. His holy relics rest beside those of St. Peter at Rome.
A ravenous wolf, a roaring lion, is changed into a meek lamb; a sworn enemy of the Christians, into their protector and teacher; an embittered persecutor of the Church of Christ, into an apostle; a sinner into a Saint; a Saul into a Paul! Surely this was a conversion that the mighty hand of God alone could work: an unquestionable example of the infinite mercy of the Most High. "I who before was a blasphemer and a persecutor and contumelious," said the holy apostle of himself, "but I obtained the mercy of God" (I Tim. i). Truly he obtained mercy, and inexpressibly great was the mercy he received. For at the same time that he was raging against the Christians, endeavoring to imprison them and bring them to Jerusalem; at the time when he merited hell for his wickedness, God opened his eyes, called him to turn from his sinful path, told him how to act, and granted him more than sufficient grace to begin the work of his conversion.
But why did God show such mercy to Paul? The apostle himself replies; "But for this cause have I obtained mercy; that in me first, Christ Jesus might show forth all patience for the information of them that shall believe in him unto life everlasting" (I Tim. i.). God would place an example of His mercy before the eyes of men, and make known that no one is so great a sinner that he may not be converted and receive pardon for his iniquities. And let this, my Reader, be today a lesson for you. But you have still
to consider one point more. God showed great mercy to St. Paul and made him the partaker of great graces; but St. Paul co-operated with these graces. If he had not done so, he would not have become a Saint. "But by the grace of God," says he, "I am what I am, and His grace in me hath not been void. I have labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (Cor. xv.). Learn from this to co-operate with the grace God gives you; otherwise His mercy will be void in you.
As soon as St. Paul recognized the wickedness he had committed in persecuting the Christians, and understood the divine will by a heavenly vision and by the instructions of St. Ananias, he converted himself unhesitatingly to God, and, soon after, commenced to preach fearlessly the same faith he had before so cruelly persecuted. The remaining 34 years of his life he employed zealously in the service of the Almighty and made more than sufficient amends for his past offences. He was not satisfied that he himself had become a Christian, and that he served God, but he endeavored to convert others, as well Jews as heathens, to Christianity, and to lead them to a holy life by verbal and written instructions. How great a work he had taken upon himself, and what dangers and persecutions he had to endure on account of it, may be partly seen in his Epistles.
God has, for a long time, made you sensible of the wickedness of your sins, the greatness of the danger to which you expose yourself, your need of a serious conversion. When will you then commence it? "And thinkest thou," I ask you in the words of St. Paul, "that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and patience, and long-suffering? Knowest thou not that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance? But according to thy hardness and impenitent heart thou treasurest up to thyself wrath"(Rom. ii.). If you wish to avoid the terrible wrath of God, do not delay. Repent without further loss of time, and then, according to your station in life, mould your conduct after that of St. Paul. Think that he says to you from heaven, what he wrote to the Philippians: "Be ye followers of me (Philipp. iii.)!"
What you have read of St. Peter and St. Paul, should make you carefully consider the immeasurable goodness of the Almighty towards sinners. Peter had committed sin in denying the Saviour. Paul had become guilty of great iniquity in persecuting the Church of Christ. Both did penance, both were again received into the favor of the Lord. Neither of them was ever reproached with his former crimes. God loved them not less than He loved others who had not offended Him. And what is still more to be admired, He conferred on both more graces than on others. He appeared to Peter on the day of His resurrection, before His other disciples had beheld Him, and gave to him the government of His Church. To Paul also He appeared several times and most miraculously assisted him. He instructed St. Peter, in an ecstasy, to teach and convert the heathens. He chose Paul before others as the teacher of the Gentiles and revealed to him the greatest secrets of heaven.
On both He bestowed, in a much higher degree than on the other apostles, the gift of miracles. Are not all these marks of God's especial goodness towards penitent sinners? Ah! how different is one man to another, when he has to forgive a fault or a wrong! After it, he is seldom so kind towards the offender as he was before; and it is not even to be supposed that he would ever show marks of greater love or kindness. He may even sometimes reproach him with his offences and make him atone for them. Not thus does the infinitely great and merciful God treat us. He loves the penitent sinner and confess on him the greatest favors if he perseveres in the path of virtue. Is it possible that we can offend so good a God over and over again? Should we not repent immediately after having committed sin, in order to participate in the graces of the Lord?