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).
Those of us who have already been presented with the gospel of Christ, and responded by bathing in the waters of regeneration that flow from his Sacred Heart in the sacraments of the Church, are the ones who now, in our day, hear this missionary summons anew. Those who have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost – you and I – are the ones now called to share in the mission of the Church, the mission first entrusted to the apostles in fellowship with Peter, in order that our fellow men may come to know the saving message of the gospel, and themselves come to live in the eternal relationship of children of God which we enjoy.
In other words, the mission entrusted to Saints Peter and Paul by Christ is handed on through their successors to the whole Church – from what we might call ‘the Pope to the Pew’ – in order that the whole world might come to know Christ, and be converted to his love and his truth.
This means that you and I are, by virtue of our presence at this altar, called to gather and then go out from this place, announcing the gospel by our words and actions. We are called to live intentionally as disciples of the Lord – convicted by our friendship with him – so that others may come to the fullness of what it means to be human; to the fullness of reality itself in communion with the Most Blessed Trinity.
None of us can live, in any sense, if we simply exist day-to-day as notional or nominal Christians. Our baptismal vocation is not to be ‘maintenance men’, but missionaries; soldiers for Christ, bringing the banner of his victory of life over death in our homes, in our places of work, and in our relationships. We are not called to a spectator sport, but the salvation of souls.
It was for this great task that Saints Peter and Paul went gladly to their death. They shed their blood, marked by the crimson robes worn on this feast, in order to bear witness to the one whose sacrifice takes away the sins of the world. We may not be called to the shedding of our blood for Christ, please God, but we are called to the shedding of our selves, in order to bring that same unchanged and unchanging message of salvation to a world so badly in need of its healing balm. United with Saints Peter and Paul, let us be strengthened once more at this Eucharistic banquet, and then let us turn to that world, and share with new ardour the reality of the Lord’s presence with those we encounter, so that they too may come and pay him homage.