09 The legacy of two great men

posted Jun 27, 2018, 10:25 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Jun 27, 2018, 10:25 AM ]
We are a community that relies on inspirational memory. We remember our ancestors in the faith, both to be grateful for them and to learn from them lessons for today. The two whose lives we celebrate on June 29 tell of God's power to transform and redirect a person's life. The lives of Peter and Paul were completely changed by their following Jesus. The failures in their lives, and even more so, their conversions, may surprise us, but they probably surprised them too! What Paul says in the epistle, Peter might have also said, "I have run the race; I have kept the faith." This "faith" does not mean formal doctrinal orthodoxy; rather, Paul acted as the faith required, witnessing to his faith in Jesus to believers and non-believers alike. His words give a keen insight into the cost and joy of being a disciple. In the end, Paul was imprisoned and executed in Rome during Nero's suppression of the Church in the mid-60s of the first century.

Jesus intended Peter to lead His followers after He Himself left this world. He also intended, one must assume, that others would carry on this leadership after Peter. This does not mean that the Lord approved in advance every development and protocol of the papacy since then, or that all actions of the Roman Curia have the stamp of divine approval. History has thrown up some popes of questionable character (though no spectacularly immoral ones since 1700). Some have been poor administrators, or lacked the capacity to inspire others. The ceremonial pomp surrounding the papacy often seems too lavish for the successors of Peter the fisherman. None of this cancels the essence of Petrine leadership or its importance for the Church. The promise to Peter did not guarantee that his successors would all be saints, or that all would avoid mistakes. Catholics should realise what is essential to the faith and what is not. We bear in mind the old dictum "Ecclesia semper reformanda" which also applies to the papacy. We believe in God and His love, as revealed by Jesus and the Church. We do not worship the Pope, but we deeply respect him as Peter's successor, a focus of unity and chief pastor of the Church.

There is a story told about Peter's death in Rome during the persecution under Nero. When he heard about Nero's plan to burn the city and blame the Christians, Peter knew that if he were found in the city, he would be arrested and put to death. Urged by his friends, he did the sensible thing and began to leave the city at night along the Appian Way. As the night wore on, the sky was lit by the flames rising from the city. Then Peter saw someone coming in the opposite direction, heading back towards the city, a face that even at night seemed familiar. "Where are you going, Lord?" (Quo vadis, Domine?) asked the bewildered Peter. "To Rome," was the reply, "to be crucified again" … and on hearing this, Peter turned around and returned to Rome.