The very Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul is itself a reminder that these two great pillars of the Church’s life are closely related. In front of the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome, the two saints together flank Maderno’s imposing façade. At the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the Walls, the martyrdom of both saints is shown in the courtyard that opens before the entrance to the church. And in the sacred liturgy, that most resplendent “architecture” of our faith which gives shape and structure to our worship of God, these great men are historically always honoured side by side.
I had the great privilege of proclaiming the gospel from a pulpit he used often and hearing confessions in his confessional in St Patrick’s, Soho Square. I’m also adopting him as the patron of my work as Communications Officer for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Imagine how devastatingly effective he’d have been with YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the like… *shudders*.
On the great Solemnity of Ss Peter & Paul, though, I am particularly rejoicing in the communion that we in the Ordinariate now share with over two billion other Catholic Christians: the full communion of the Catholic Church. I always expected to be bowled over by the astonishing and profound impact of Catholic communion, but it’s the peace of that communion which has really been an unexpected but welcome gift after the turbulence of former years. Thank God.
And, this week, amidst a whole host of stuff going on that’s made it a more-than-usual challenge to keep my eye on the joy and hope and splendour of all that we have achieved together, it is the Venerable Servant of God who brings me back to what communion with St Peter is all about in these few words from his autobiography, Treasure in Clay:
On a train trip from New York to Boston, I sat next to an Episcopalian clergyman. We began a friendly discussion on the validity of Anglican Orders. He contended he was a priest as much as I was, that he could offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and that he could forgive sins. He was well versed in history and in theology and our discussion proved to be so interesting that many passengers gathered around us to listen to the friendly debate. He got off the train at Providence. He advanced several steps, then turned around and, facing the audience which we both enjoyed, thought he would give me the last telling challenge by saying, ‘Remember, Bishop Sheen, I can do anything you can do’. I just had time to answer : ‘No, you can’t. I can kiss your wife, but you can’t kiss mine’.