Reflection for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Delores Dolezal, OSB
June 29, 2024 

Sometime between the years 64 and 67, Saints Peter and Paul were martyred. The city of Rome has been observing this Feast day since the mid-third century. We remember their faith, their courage, and their leadership during the very difficult days of the birth of the Church. 

From my birth to my retirement I have been rooted in the spirit of Saints Peter and Paul. On April 20, 1941, my Mother and Father carried me to Sts. Peter and Paul church in Omaha, Nebraska to be baptized. You, my Benedictine Sisters, taught me, and prepared me for my first Communion and Confirmation. Then, after joining this Benedictine Community, while sharing in the ministry of education, I once again returned to Sts. Peter and Paul school in Seneca, Kansas and retired from there. 

Whatever Peter did, he did with all his heart and soul. He made mistakes, but he got up, and kept on going. Peter was all or nothing. He was filled with passion; passion for Christ, passion for the gospel, passion for life! Peter was decisive. “Follow me.” and Peter followed. In the Acts of the Apostles we see how Peter takes the initiative and becomes the “rock” as a continuing sign of the specific role Jesus intended for him to play on behalf of his church. I recognize in myself some of the traits that Peter had: I, too, have made rash statements that I later regretted. I have made mistakes. I am impetuous. I can be exuberant! I can identify with Peter. I believe I am spiritually related to him. 

In his book, My Life with the Saints James Martin considers Peter to be one of the greatest of saints because of his humanity. He writes: “Only someone like Peter, who understood his own sinfulness and the redeeming love of Christ, would be able to lead the infant church to Jesus. Only someone as weak as Peter could do what he did….it is in our failings, and in the parts of our lives that embarrass us, that we are often drawn closer to God.”

Our 2nd reading of tomorrow’s liturgy describes the zeal of Paul: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” As a former teacher I remember the zeal I had in writing weekly newsletters and in checking the children’s papers so they would have immediate feedback. Now when I am dressed in my grubby garden clothes, I feel that “zeal”! as I go down the steps into the chicken yard in pursuit of those weeds! Or…when I see the squirrels in the bird feeders, I go after them!…… But I have yet to have the change of heart that Paul experienced. Paul’s zeal for making converts never died. He passionately preached his convictions. Where Peter might be cautious, Paul leaps across many barriers, always dreaming of new visions, always ready to go where no one has yet labored for Christ. 

In his biblical meditations for this feast day, Carroll Stuhlmueller calls Peter and Paul “twin apostles”. Peter, he says, was responsible for stability and continuity. I like to think of Peter as “leading us along the ancient way”. Paul was “the line of enrichment. He developed a theology of world apostolate.” 

In Saint Benedict’s rule there are traits in which we can recognize these twin apostles. In the Prologue Benedict quotes Paul the apostle as refusing to take credit for the power of his preaching. Benedict wants us to turn our minds to God like Paul, and strive to be ever mindful of God’s powerful presence. We have no need to boast, all is God’s gift. Like Peter Benedict made arrangements for stability and continuity. Benedict arranged the psalms, celebrations, the order and concerns of the community so that the quality of their lives were steeped in prayerfulness and Benedictine values. And yet, after setting all in order, Benedict, like Paul, made room for creative adjustments. 

At our Evening Hour of Praise we sing the canticles from the New Testament. Sixteen of them are from Paul’s letters. Peter has only three canticles, but every time we sing: “Christ suffered for us leaving us an example…he carried our sins in his body to the cross…” I can feel the tears that Peter wept as he wrote those words. He may not have been at the foot of the cross, but I do believe that he was in the crowd, watching, crying.

It is in chapter 72, the Good Zeal 0f Monks, that both Paul and Peter’s spirituality is most reflected in the Rule. When I took Sister Cecilia’s class on the Rule of Benedict, she called Chapter 72 the “Crown Jewel”. Benedict wrote it intensely, using superlative words, with the passion of Peter. Benedict wanted to teach his diverse group of people to become community. Or as Paul would teach, we are one body. Follow Christ together. Christ does not lead us as individuals but together. 

Let us ask ourselves: 

Am I spiritually related to these twin apostles? 

In what areas of my life do I need to have a conversion experience?

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