UTTER CONFIDENCE OF BEING IN GOD'S HANDS
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul
June 29, 2008
The first reading, by all counts, should be rather depressing. King Herod was hell-bent on doing harm to the Church and its incipient leaders … James was ordered killed … and Peter, too, the head of the emerging “band of brothers,” presumably becoming, as days went by, some kind of a pain in the neck for ambitious Herod, was arrested … and imprisoned. Luke finds it significant enough to record that no less than “four squads of four soldiers each” had to be commissioned to guard him as he languished in prison. He was fettered with “double chains” and had to sleep “between two soldiers,” while more guards “kept watch outside the door.”
The second reading is no less saddening, in a way. Paul, too, was in prison kept under humiliating conditions. As if to say good-bye, he speaks of his impending “departure” very clearly referring to his death. Paul was writing his own version of a valedictory address to Timothy.
This forms part of the backdrop of today’s solemnity in honor of two great figures in the incipient Church, two towering pastors who shepherded and guided the early Church, “come hell or high water,” as it were. Such is the backdrop to a celebration that extolled the greatness of two men who shone “in their finest hour,” through thick and thin, whether in the “best of times,” or in the “worst of times.”
As a priest for these past 25 years, as a pastor, prophet, and teacher – and, erstwhile – leader of a community, seminary and school, I see promise, I see hope, I see challenge and a call to ongoing commitment in the shining examples of these two great men – Peter and Paul!
The two lived in the worst of times! The two showed their mettle in the best of times!
Peter was surrounded by guards and manacled like a common criminal. But with chains and all, guards or no guards to pin him down, the persecuted and emotionally pilloried Peter slept, as the Acts passage tells us. As the church “prayed fervently” for him, Peter slept the peaceful sleep of faith, trust and confidence in the power of God who was his saviour. The worst of times became Peter’s shining hour. It became the best of times for God to reveal what we so confidently proclaim in response to the first reading: “The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.”
Paul, for his part, bidding good-bye to his beloved flock, feels confident enough to speak of his life as having been “poured out like a libation,” and like an accomplished and consummate athlete, who has “competed well,” “finished the race,” and “kept the faith,” stands ready to receive “a crown of righteousness” from the Lord, for He “stood by [him] and gave [him] strength, so that through [him] the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it,” for [he was] rescued from the lion’s mouth.” The worst of times for Paul in a painful moment of parting really became also his finest hour, his own moment of glorification from the Lord “who [rescues him] from every evil threat and [brings him] safe to his heavenly kingdom.”
I request the gentle reader (or hearer) to join me and my brother priests and bishops as we go through our own version of Peter and Paul’s “worst of times” experience. Needless to say, there is the equivalent of Peter’s “four squads of four soldiers each” and “double chains” and overzealous guards sandwiching us between them, as the mass media and the tide of public opinion send us to our own dark dungeons of condemnatory moral imprisonment, thus effectively “silencing” us and the whole Philippine Church on current matters that need moral clarification. The overbearing power of the mass media has been brought to bear on the hapless – if, unfortunate – clerics who happen to be brought to a humbling trial by publicity.
I ask the sympathetic and faith-filled and faith-inspired reader (or hearer) to pray for us as church, even as the early christians prayed for Peter in chains. I ask you to accompany us as we weather through these “worst of times!”
But I also ask you to pray that “our faith, like Peter’s, may not fail.” I also ask you to pray that like us, in imitation of Peter and Paul, you lay people may all sleep the peaceful sleep of one like Peter, who, confident of the prayer of the Church, rested peacefully in the God who “rescues us from the lion’s mouth,” to whom is due all “glory forever and ever.” I ask you to pray that the worst of times may indeed be transformed to the best of times. I ask you to help us deliver the great news, in season and out of season, that “everything works unto good for those who love him,” that ultimately, “all will be well; all will be well.”
I have it on the strength of Peter’s and Paul’s stolid faith that “in our weaknesses, God is our strength.” I have it, too, on the authority of Jesus the Christ, who once – and, definitively -- told Peter, “And so I say to you. You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
Ultimately, it was the faith and the prayer of the community (the church) that gave Peter that confident assurance of deliverance from his prison chains. The worst of times became the best of times to show the sinful world all about the power of one who destroyed both sin and death, and who was more powerful than hatred and envy and evil machinations – including the very sins, we your priests and pastors admittedly fell – and still, fall into!
Today’s solemnity is all about this meta-worldly and spiritual power that shone marvelously in the lives of two great men named Peter and Paul. More than any other, the two show us that, despite the darkness of this worldly existence and the apparent hopelessness that cloud the Church right now, Christ Himself, and not merely an angel, will come back to “snatch her finally and forever from the hands of all her enemies.” What we now pray for together as Church is what now we all are becoming … utterly confident of being in God’s hands!