The solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, which we celebrate today, offers us a yearly opportunity to reflect on these dual pillars of the Church’s life; to give thanks for the apostolic foundation of Saint Peter – the one whom the Lord calls ‘the Rock’ on which the Church is built – and the missionary zeal of Saint Paul – whose fervour for the proclamation of the gospel took him across the civilized world of his day. We are presented with these two great heroes of the Christian religion on their own respective feasts at other points in the year, but today together – inseparable as true signs of the nature of the Church and her mission in the world. This is true, because without the Petrine foundations – the apostolic life of the Church which is guaranteed by the bishops in communion with the successor of Saint Peter himself – that missionary, Pauline dimension, lacks its proper mandate. Similarly, without an outward-looking, evangelical spirit – the spirit of Saint Paul – the Church risks becoming introspective; ineffective in the mission given her by Christ: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Mt. 28: 19).
As much due to the emerging influence of evangelical Protestantism as western society’s incapacity or unwillingness to stomach the language of the Christian religion, the Holy Spirit has, in recent times, been dealt a rather poor hand. We hear people speak of being “spiritual, but not religious”; of being “moved by the Spirit” to sit lightly (at best) and ignore (at worst) core teachings of the faith. We have even seen attempts in some quarters to label the Holy Spirit as some sort of feminine goddess (because, you see, the Hebrew noun Ruarch is feminine, even if the Latin Spiritus is masculine), as if the past two thousand years of Church history – littered as it is with the most spectacular examples of women saints – martyrs, virgins, and doctors of the Church – somehow sought to eradicate the fairer sex altogether from our collective memory.