THE LORD WILL DELIVER ME FROM EVERYTHING HARMFUL HE WILL BRING ME SAFELY INTO HIS HEAVENLY KINGDOM (2 Timothy 4:18). When St. Paul penned these confident words from Rome to St. Timothy, his beloved disciple and collaborator, he realized he was facing imminent death- a circumstance that bestows on them all the solemnity of a final farewell. He intended this statement to be a witness to his faith in the Lord Jesus, his Savior, and by that very fact a source of strength and consolation to a man who was to carry on his work of preaching the Gospel in a hostile climate. When we reflect on Paul's situation as St. Timothy would have done, we can only be strengthened in the faith that Paul taught and lived by. We recognize how his faith enabled Paul to remain secure and at peace even while his life was being cut off by those who rejected his message. No word of bitterness, frustration or doubt arises as he evaluates his service of the Gospel on the eve of his violent death. His concern is for the welfare of his disciple and of the Church he serves. He is confident that, having served the risen Lord in the years since his conversion, his death is not a loss but a gain. Timothy need have no worry about Paul; rather, the important issue is that the truth of the Gospel remains with the faithful (cf. Galatians 2:5).
This concern for the truth of the Gospel, which so characterized Paul's work throughout his missionary years, was passed on to his protégé, Timothy and to the faithful at Rome where he died soon after writing this letter. Maintaining the truth of the Gospel meant preaching the same message that Jesus proclaimed, not only by his words but also by the great acts that accompanied them. Above all it meant recognizing that he was handed over for our sins and rose for our justification (Romans 4: 25) and is now the risen Lord who is Christ among you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). This concern to maintain the faith whole and true was recognized as Paul's heritage and accepted by the Church of Rome as coming to her from the Lord himself, through the ministry of Paul.
That the witness of St. Peter was also given at Rome reinforced this understanding of the particular mission of the Church in the Capital of the empire. Indeed, it served to make even clearer her duty faithfully to preserve the deposit of faith. For Jesus gave Peter,on the occasion when he witnessed to Jesus' true identity as the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16: 16), word that he was to be the foundation stone of the Church that Jesus was to establish. Our Lord himself understood Peter's witness as the fruit of a divine inspiration. His response was no less inspired and obviously carried with it the assurance that his function as the Church's firm foundation would also be accompanied by a divine grace. Later when Peter and the other apostles were commissioned to preach the Gospel to the whole wide world it became apparent that this grace of governing the Church was attached to the office, not given to Peter alone.
Witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus and fidelity to the person of Jesus, the only Son of God sent into the world by the Father have remained a major concern of the Bishop of Rome since the days of Peter and Paul. The present-day Papacy continues to fulfill these functions in circumstances that are vastly different from those prevailing at the time Peter and Paul carried out their mission in Rome. The way the Papacy is understood, however, grew directly out of their witness and their teachings. After the resurrection Jesus reinstated Peter in his primacy following upon his failure of nerve at the time of the passion. In doing so he made one prominent point: Peter's role is a service of love. He is given his authority for the benefit of the faithful. His charge as head of the Church presupposes that he loves the Lord. Concern for the spiritual good of the flock entrusted to him is the form this love is to take. A primary element in that concern is to preach the truth of Jesus' message and to witness to the divine love that impelled him to give himself on the cross for the salvation of his people.
Today as we commemorate the martyrdom of these two founders of the Roman Catholic Church let us first of all give thanks to God for their faithful testimony, sealed as it is in their blood. We can best show our gratitude to the Lord for the great gift of the Papacy to the whole Church not only by praying for the Pope and his associates in the ministry to the Roman Church, but also by our own fidelity and witness to the faith. This witness requires not only that we strive daily to live according to the Gospel, but also that we prepare ourselves to give an account of our belief by our assiduous, prayerful study of the truths taught by the Church. Studying her doctrine, her history and the word of God entrusted to the Church in the Scriptures are important ways of growing in a loving knowledge of our Savior himself and of God's plan of salvation. This understanding stimulates us to live lives of holiness, united with the risen Lord. As he comes to us this morning in the Eucharist may we give glory to God in the Church and in Christ Jesus now and world without end. Amen.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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