Mass Homily: Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul
Pope Benedict XVI
Apostolic mission: peace, unity in Christ
On Sunday, 29 June , the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, Patrons of Rome, the Holy Father presided at Holy Mass for the conferral of the Pallium on 40 Metropolitan Archbishops in St. Peter's Basilica. An additional two Prelates received the pallium in their own sees. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I also took part, in accordance with the annual tradition of the Orthodox-Catholic exchange of visits for the patronal Feasts of their respective Churches. Together with the Pope and the Patriarch blessed those present, together they recited in Greek the Nicene Constantinople Creed, and they both preached, first the Patriarch and then the Holy Father. The following is a translation of the Pope's Homily, which was given in Italian.
Your Holiness and Fraternal Delegates, Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Since the most ancient times the Church of Rome has celebrated the Solemnity of the Great Apostles Peter and Paul as a single Feast on the same day, 29 June. It was through their martyrdom, that they became brothers; together they founded the new Christian Rome.
As such they are praised in the hymn for Second Vespers that dates back to Paulinus of Aquileia ([c. 750-]806): "O Roma felix — fortunate Rome, consecrated by the glorious blood of the two Princes of the Apostles; dyed red in their blood, you shine more resplendently than all the glory of the world, not by your merit, but by the merits of the saints that you have killed, drawing blood with the sword".
The blood of martyrs does not invoke revenge but reconciliation. It is not presented as an accusation but rather as the "fairer light", in the words of the hymn for First Vespers: it is presented as the force of love that overcomes hatred and violence, thus founding a new city, a new community.
Through their martyrdom they — Peter and Paul — now belong to Rome: through their martyrdom, Peter also became a Roman citizen for ever. Through their martyrdom, through their faith and love, both Apostles point to where true hope lies; they are. founders of a new sort of city that must be constantly rebuilt in the midst of the old human city that is threatened by the opposing forces of human sin and selfishness.
By virtue of their martyrdom, Peter and Paul are in a reciprocal relationship for ever.
A favourite image in Christian iconography shows the embrace of the two Apostles on their way to martyrdom. We can say: their martyrdom itself is the realization of a fraternal embrace in the deepest sense. They died for the one Christ and in their witness for which they gave their lives, they are one.
In the New Testament writings we can, so to speak, follow the development of their embrace, this creation of unity in witness and mission. Everything begins when Paul, three years after his conversion, goes to Jerusalem "to visit Cephas" (Gal 1:18).
Fourteen years later he went. up to Jerusalem again to lay 'before. those who were of repute" the Gospel he was preaching in order to avoid the risk of "running or [having] run in vain" (Gal 2:1f.). At the end of this encounter, James, Cephas and John shake hands with him, thus confirming the communion that links them in the one Gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Gal 2:9).
I find the fact that the collaborators mentioned at the end of the First Letter of Peter — Silvanus and Mark — were likewise close collaborators of St. Paul is a beautiful sign of the growth of this inner embrace which developed despite the diversity of their temperaments and tasks. The communion of the one Church, is clearly demonstrated by the embrace of the great Apostles, in their cooperation.
Common destination: Rome
Peter and Paul met in Jerusalem at least twice; the paths of both were ultimately to converge in Rome. Why? Might this be something more than pure chance? Might this contain a lasting message? Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner but, at the same time, as a Roman citizen who, precisely as such, after his arrest in Jerusalem had appealed to the Emperor to whose tribunal he was taken.
However, in a deeper sense Paul came to Rome of his own free will. Through some of his most important Letters he had already become inwardly close to this city: he had addressed to the Church in Rome the writing that sums up the whole of his proclamation and his faith better than any other. In the initial greeting of this Letter he says that the faith of the Christians of Rome is being talked about in all the world and is, therefore, reputed everywhere to be exemplary (cf. Rm 1:8).
He then writes: "I want you to know, brethren, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented)" (1:13).
At the end of the Letter he returns to this topic now speaking of his project of a journey to Spain. "I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be sped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little" (15:24).
"And I know that when I come to you I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ" (15:29).
These are two things that become obvious: for Paul, Rome was a stopping place on the way to Spain, in other words according to his conception of the world — on his way to the extreme edge of the earth. He considers his mission to be the fulfilment of the task assigned to him by Christ, to take the Gospel to the very ends of the world.
Rome lay on his route. Whereas Paul usually went to places where the Gospel had not yet been proclaimed, Rome was an exception. He found there a Church whose faith was being talked about across the world. Going to Rome was part of the universality of his mission as an envoy to all peoples.
The way that led to Rome, which already prior to his external voyage he had travelled inwardly with his Letter, was an integral part of his duty to take the Gospel to all the peoples — to found the catholic or universal Church. For him, going to Rome was an expression of the catholicity of his mission. Rome had to make the faith visible to the whole world, it had to be the meeting place of the one faith.
But why did Peter go to Rome? The New Testament says nothing about this directly. Yet it gives us some hints. The Gospel according to St. Mark, which we may consider a reflection of St. Peter's preaching, focuses closely on the moment when the Roman centurion, who, in the light of Jesus Christ's death on the Cross, said: "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (15:39).
By the Cross the mystery of Jesus Christ was revealed. Beneath the Cross the Church of the peoples was born: the centurion of the Roman platoon in charge of his execution recognized Christ as the Son of God.
The Acts of the Apostles describe the episode of Cornelius, a centurion of the Italic cohort, as a crucial stage for the entry of the Gospel into the Gentile world.
On a command from God, Cornelius sent someone to fetch Peter and Peter, also following a divine command, went to the centurion's house and preached there. While he was speaking the Holy Spirit descended on the domestic community that had gathered and Peter said: "Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (Acts 10:47).
Different Apostolic ministries
Thus at the Council of the Jerusalem, Peter became the intercessor for the Church of the Gentiles who had no need of the Law because God had "cleansed their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:9).
Of course, in the Letter to the Galatians Paul says God empowered Peter for the apostolic ministry among the circumcised, and instead empowered him, Paul, for the ministry to the Gentiles (2:8).
This assignment however could only be in force while Peter remained with the Twelve in Jerusalem in the hope that all Israel would adhere to Christ.
As they faced the further development, the Twelve recognized when it was time for them too to set out for the whole world to proclaim the Gospel.
Peter who, complying with God's order, had been the first to open the door to pagans, now left the leadership of the Christian-Jewish Church to James the Lesser in order to dedicate himself to his true mission: the ministry for the unity of the one Church of God formed by Jews and pagans.
Among the Church's characteristics, St. Paul's desire to go to Rome places emphasis — as we have seen — on the word "catholic". St. Peter's journey to Rome, as representative of the world's peoples, comes especially under the word "one": his task was to create the unity of the catholica, the Church formed by Jews and pagans, the Church of all the peoples.
And this is Peter's ongoing mission: to ensure that the Church is never identified with a single nation, with a single culture or with a single State but is always the Church of all; to ensure that she reunites humanity over and above every boundary and, in the midst of the divisions of this world, makes God's peace present, the reconciling power of his love.
Thanks to technology that is the same everywhere, thanks to the world information network and also thanks to the connection of common interests, in the world today new forms of unity exist; yet they spark new disputes and give a new impetus to the old ones. In the midst of this external unity, based on material things, our need for the inner unity which comes from God's peace is all the greater — the unity of all those who have become brothers and sisters through Jesus Christ. This is Peter's permanent mission and also the specific task entrusted to the Church of Rome.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I would now like to address you who have come to Rome to receive the pallium as a symbol of your dignity and responsibility as Archbishops in the Church of Jesus Christ. The pallium is woven with wool from sheep that the Bishop of Rome blesses every year on the Feast of the Chair of Peter, setting them aside as it were, so that they may become a symbol of the flock of Christ over which you preside.
When we place the pallium on our shoulders, our gesture reminds us of the Shepherd who takes upon his shoulders the lost sheep that cannot find its way home alone and brings it back to the fold.
The Fathers of the Church saw this little lost lamb as the image of all humanity, of the whole of human nature which strays and can no longer find the way home. The Shepherd who brings it back home can only be the Logos, the eternal Word of God himself.
The Good Shepherd leads us home
In the Incarnation he took all of us — "human" sheep — on his shoulders. He, the eternal word, the true Shepherd of humanity carries us; in his humanity he carries each one of us on his shoulders. On the way of the Cross he took us home, he takes us home.
But he also wants to have men to "carry" it with him. Being a Pastor of Christ's Church means participating in this task which is commemorated by the pallium.
When we wear it, he asks us, "Are you too helping me to carry me those who belong to me? Are you bringing them to me, to Jesus Christ?".
And then we recall the account of the sending of Peter by the Risen One. The Risen Christ connects the order: "Tend my sheep" inseparably with the question: "Do you love me, do you love me more than these?".
Every time we put on the pallium, as a Pastor of Christ's flock we must listen to this question: "Do you love me?", and ourselves be questioned about the extra love that he expects from the Pastor.
Thus the Pallium becomes the symbol of our love for Christ the Good Shepherd and of our loving together with him — it becomes the symbol of the vocation to love people as he does, together with him; those who are seeking, those who have questions, those who are sure of themselves and the humble, the simple and the great; he becomes a symbol of the call to love all of them with the power of Christ and in view of Christ, so that they may find him and in him find themselves.
However, the pallium, which you received "from the" tomb of St. Peter has another, second meaning, inseparably connected to the first. In order to understand it, some words from the First Letter of St. Peter may be a help to us.
In his exhortation to priests to tend the flock properly he — St. Peter — describes himself as a synpresbyteros — fellow elder (5:1).
This formula contains implicitly an affirmation of the principle of Apostolic Succession: Pastors who succeed one another are Pastors like him, they are together with him, they belong to the common ministry of the Pastors of the Church of Jesus Christ, a ministry that continues in them.
But this word "fellow" also has two more meanings. It also expresses the reality we define today with the term "collegiality" of the Bishops. We are all fellow-priests. No one is a Pastor on his own. We are in the succession of the Apostles also thanks to being in communion as a college, which finds its continuity in the college of the Apostles. "Our" communion as Pastors is part of being a Pastor, because the flock is one alone, the one Church of Jesus Christ. And lastly this word "fellow" refers to communion with Peter and his Successor as a guarantee of unity. Thus the pallium speaks to us of the catholicity of the Church, of the universal communion of the Pastor and flock and refers us to apostolicity: to communion with the faith of the Apostles on which the Church is founded.
It speaks to us of the ecclesia una, catholica, apostolica and naturally, binding us to Christ, it speaks to us precisely of the fact that the Church is sancta and that our work is a service to her holiness.
Lastly, this brings me back once again to St. Paul and his mission. He expressed the essential of his mission as well as the deepest reason for his desire to go to Rome in chapter 15 of the Letter to the Romans in an extraordinarily beautiful sentence.
He knows he is called "to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the Gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (15:16).
In this verse alone does Paul use the word "hierourgein" — to administer as a priest — together with "leitourgos" — liturgy: he speaks of the cosmic liturgy in which the human world itself must become worship of God, an oblation in the Holy Spirit.
When the world in all its parts has become a liturgy of God, when, in its reality, it has become adoration, then it will have reached its goal and will be safe and sound. This is the ultimate goal of St. Paul's apostolic mission as well as of our own mission.
The Lord calls us to this ministry. Let us pray at this time that he may help us to carry it out properly, to become true liturgists of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Weekly Edition in English
2 July 2008, page 9
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