Yesterday, we celebrated the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, which gives the faithful the opportunity to reflect on many different subjects. For instance, it is on this feast that the Pope traditionally presents the pallium to newly installed metropolitan archbishops, signifying their union with the Holy See. The feast is also important for the ecumenical movement because it is on this day that leaders of both the Catholic and Orthodox churches come together to pray and work towards full communion. However, one theme that seems to be missed is that of God’s mercy as exemplified by the lives of these two leaders of the early Church. And with the Jubilee Year of Mercy upcoming, one might want to look to these great saints for some inspiration.
One of the most well-known moments of the Passion is when Peter denies Christ three times (Mt 26:69-75) even after promising Jesus that, “though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be” (Mk 14:29). Likewise, Paul also denied Jesus by his persecution of the disciples. He even takes part in the death of the first martyr, St. Stephen (Acts 7:58-60). If their stories had stopped there, we might judge the first as a fare-weather follower and the second as a ruthless fanatic.
Yet, we know that is not how the story ends. In the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to his disciples as they are fishing. They are eating breakfast on the shore when Christ asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” to which Peter replies yes twice and at the third time says, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15-17). And thus, Peter is redeemed and given the charged by Jesus to “Feed my sheep.” He becomes the leader of the early church and by tradition is regarded as the first pope.
On his way to Damascus, Paul sees a bright light from the sky and voice crying out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). The voice is revealed to be that of Jesus himself. Blinded by the light, Paul enters Damascus when one of Jesus’ disciples, Ananias, lays his hands on him at the Lord’s command. Upon doing so, Paul’s vision is regained, is baptized, and goes on to preach the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean.
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, “The Church is not holy by herself; in fact, she is made up of sinners…Rather, she is made holy ever anew by the Holy One of God, by the purifying love of Christ.” Similarly, Pope Francis recalls, “[God] never tires of forgiving, but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness…He is the loving Father who always pardons, who has that heart of mercy for us all.” The lives of Sts. Peter and Paul show us that no one is beyond forgiveness, so long as he or she seeks the mercy of God. Therefore, these two great pillars of the Church are a great reminder to have as we approach the Jubilee Year.
Victor David is a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.