On Thursday June 29 we as Church celebrated the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. The lives of these two saintly celebrities have a lot to say to us who live in the 21st century.
Peter, son of Jonah, who hailed from Galilee, precisely from Bethsaida, was a married man. He was a fisherman along with his brother Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. To Peter and Andrew Jesus presented the calling of being fishers of men (see Matt 14:9). “Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matt 4:20). Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah (see Matt 16:16). And the Lord praised Peter’s faith after this confession saying: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). In the Eastern Christian Tradition Peter is called the Rock of Faith. It is so interesting that the Gospels also record incidences in which Peter’s faith faltered. Most famously when he thrice denied Christ’s after the Lord’s arrest and when he abandoned Jesus during his passion, as did the other apostles, except John. Peter’s faith also faltered when, with the other apostles, he did not believe the woman’s account of Christ’s empty tomb after his resurrection.
However the Risen Lord appeared to him and after Peter three times affirmed his love for the Lord saying, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you” (John 21:15) his position as an apostle was reinstated.
Faith did not come easily to Peter. Like the other apostles he did not understand what his confession of Jesus meant. He had a confused vision of Jesus’ Kingdom. Even after the Resurrection he did not understand because, with his fellow apostles, he asked Jesus: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). It is only at Pentecost that true faith in Christ’s Kingdom is given to Peter and the Apostles as agift of the Holy Spirit.
But Peter had love for his Teacher even before he acquired faith in what He taught. It was love and not faith that brought Peter to weep bitterly after he thrice denied Christ. And the Lord “turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61). Thus, Peter affirmed his love after Jesus’ resurrection even though he did not yet understand what the whole business of the Cross and Resurrection really signify. Hence, love precedes faith and proper understanding. As Saint Paul writes: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13).
In our relationships with God and one another our understanding and therefore our faith can be confused or obscured while love still maintains the relationship and ultimately leads us to faith and faithfulness. Love opens the door to faith.
Regarding Saint Paul, the staunchest of the Pharisees, he was converted when Christ appeared to him saying: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Following that experience Paul was to become the great Apostle to the Gentiles. We attribute to him 17 of the 27 books of the New Testament. Paul missionary’s efforts exceeded those of the other apostles notwithstanding he was the very last of them to see Christ face-to-face.
Paul came to know Jesus Christ when the latter confronted him, face-to-face. There is no substitute for face-to-face contact. When one used to meet Paul one could see that he was “full of grace”. Unfortunately, in recent years, we have been avoiding face-to-face contact with one another or even telephone conversations in real time. We often prefer to text or tweet or post our sentiments and thoughts through a mediator that is through the phone, the computer, in other words a machine. Let us not mistake this type of interaction for wholesome human contact which involves being confronted by the presence, the revelation of an icon, of a human being created in the image and likeness of God. We truly experience God through one another in ways we don’t in an inanimate screen. We can’t grow as human beings if we reduce our relationships to the very controlled interaction provided by our modern technology.
Let us be attentive of how we use modern technology so that it doesn’t shape us and replace human contact.