JUNE 29, 2002, FEAST OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL:
HOMILY- 2TIM 4:6-8, 17,18; MT 16:13-19

 BLESSED ARE YOU SIMON BAR JONA FOR FLESH AND BLOOD HAVE NOT REVEALED THIS TO YOU BUT MY FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN. To know Christ in all truth is to be enlightened by the Father. More; it mean to be in communion with. Him. Earlier in his Gospel Matthew had made the point that ‘No one knows the son except the Father; nor does any one know the Father save only the Son and the one to whom he is pleased to reveal Him’ (11:27).  This basic truth of our faith is at once consoling and humbling. It is a consolation because it means we are not left to ourselves to discover the way to salvation and to life. We can hope for the mercy of God in the form of the gift of faith which opens our mind so as to enable us to receive the light that is is life-giving. If this is a consoling truth it is also humbling for it implies that of ourselves we cannot attain to the most important of all knowledge. It is quite simply beyond the reach of our mind; human reasoning does not suffice to itself alone in the matter of eternal salvation. Our reason must be enlightened and strengthened by the grace of God in order to achieve the understanding without which all other knowledge is ultimately without consequence for our true happiness. 

In their different ways both Peter and Paul came to realize this fundamental point of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus himself tells Peter that he owes his knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, not to his own efforts and gifts of mind and heart but to the grace of the Father. St. Paul learned the same lesson at the time of his conversion when he abruptly saw, in the light of the risen Christ,  that his human knowledge was not only inadequate but misguided. He became convinced of the absolute necessity of grace for salvation. ‘The just man lives by faith’, he reminded the Romans, and added that “The justice of God is in all  who believe through faith in Jesus Christ. . . . you are justified freely by his grace’ (3:22,24). 

As Paul lived out the mystery of grace in Christ he came to understand the whole of Christian life as the fruit of a grace that enables the faithful to live in communion with the Lord,  so that he can resist temptation and remain free of sin’s domination: ‘And so consider yourselves dead to sin but living to God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:11). For him too to know Christ is to live with him, to discover in one’s own experience the power and truth of God manifested in his Son made flesh. 

Few persons had a stronger conviction of the need of grace and of the revelation it brought with it than St. Augustine. He brought all the energy and forceful penetration of his powerful intellect to bear on the fundamental questions relative to the meaning of life only to meet with frustration. His restlessness grew as he sought answers that would satisfy his mind and heart.  In his Confessions he repeatedly discovered his inability to uncover the truth of creation and of his place in it and his powerlessness to change his bad habits in spite of his better self. His own words describe well his struggles. 

What torments did my travailing heart then endure! What sighs, O my God! Yet even there were your ears open, and I knew it not; and when in stillness I sought earnestly, those silent contritions of my soul were strong cries unto your mercy. No man knows but you alone, what I endured. . . . by the secret hand of your remedy was my swelling lessened and the disordered and darkened eyesight of my mind, by the sharp anointings of healthful sorrows, was from day to day made whole (The Confessions VII.VII and VII, in Basic Writings o f Saint Augustine, ed. Whitney Oates, [Random House, New York: vol. I 1948] 98, 99).    

Yet, not long after suffering this state of confusion and turmoil,  he was profoundly moved by grace, and experienced the peace that his own efforts alone could in no way achieve.    

We commemorate the apostles Peter and Paul today first of all to praise God for the great transformation he effected in each of them. Both of them, studied from a human point of view prior to their conversion, were   most unlikely candidates for the position they came to fulfill in God’s plan of redemption. Peter, warm-hearted, friendly, generous but too enthusiastic for his own good. Men of such character make pleasant companions but cannot be reliably entrusted with large responsibilities; their feelings get ahead of their judgment so easily. Paul was the intellectual, proud and imperious, eager for great undertakings, relentless in pursuit of the goals he set for himself. Who would predict he could be led to renounce his concept of greatness to concern himself with the people his admired teachers considered beyond contempt?  However,  God sees into the depths of the heart and his grace can refashion us there with a grace that corresponds to our most profound and intimate potential, previously unknown even to ourselves. Peter and Paul are witnesses to this transforming grace.

As we celebrate their witness to the power of God’s sanctifying love which brought about such marvelous effects in these men who became the foundation of the Church, we are reminded that God offers his transforming grace to each of us as well. Though we know ourselves to be unlikely candidates for an eternity of intimate friendship with his Son and those who belong to him, yet both Peter and Paul taught that we are called to share God’s love and goodness along with them for all eternity. With confidence then let us offer this Eucharist in their honor today, in the firm belief that it is a pledge that God calls us to share with them the lot of the saints in glory.    

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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