Three Singers, One Song

JMJ

The Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, Apostles

It was the feast of the Unleavened Bread

Acts 12:3 (NABRE)

TODAY’S FEAST CELEBRATES TWO Men who sang the same song. They were both martyred for the song because they refused to change the tune when the empire demanded they do so. They didn’t change the tune even when their fellow Jews rejected them and tried to have them slain.

Peter gets arrested and an angel leads him out of prison. Roman prisons are (mostly) underground: holes in the ground like graves actually. What does this remind you of? So, it’s Easter and Peter gets loosed from his underground chains and returned to freedom. Who is this God that frees people from their chains? Peter never changed the Tune.

Paul’s moment of conversion, of course, was more like the Transfiguration than Easter. Like Peter, Paul got to see Christ in his glory. But Paul gave up his entire life – including his religion – to go teach about this man he saw once in a vision. He insisted that in some way we cannot fully understand Jesus had died for him. And then Paul went and died for Jesus. Paul never changed the tune.

The Roman Church has two patrons, Peter and Paul, whom tradition teaches were both martyred at Rome. They were only part of the crew, as it were: tomorrow we celebrate all the earliest Martyrs of Rome. If you listen to Folks Who Know Things™, they will let you know that Jesus was pretty cool but Peter and Paul got it all wrong. We all know of demagogues who preach falsities and lure others to their doom. People who want us to ignore the Church tell us that Peter and Paul were such men. They got it all wrong. Everything is fine. Follow your bliss and do your own thing. It’s only a pinch of incense after all.

Today’s solemnity celebrates two men who sang a common harmony, but there was a third voice in their song. In fact, the Third Voice was the driving force behind Peter and Paul. They only sang the songs that were written for them and their harmony would have fallen apart except for their Master, Jesus. It was he who composed the tunes and wrote the harmonies, who called them to sing, who gave them their voices, who blessed them with all the gifts they needed to do the work he called them to do. To ignore Peter and Paul is exactly to ignore Jesus, the Dominant Third Voice in this trio.

People who know things will try to tell you that Jesus was all about love and Peter and Paul ruined it.

People who say know nothing about love.

Just the Two of Us, We Can Make It

JMJ

The Readings for the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul

Dominus autem mihi astitit, et confortavit me. 
The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.

In the movie Paul: Apostle of Christ, the character of Saint Paul experiences nightmares on a nightly basis. These are dreams of people he has tortured in his earlier life, people he has killed, and people who have reason to hate him. He sees them as a group staring at him angrily (so he thinks). He has flashbacks to when he killed them. He awakes in a cold sweat and and in terror. The first time this happens in the movie, we see Paul’s eyes jerk open and he says, almost like a mantra, Your grace is sufficient.

Through the rest of the movie we pay no attention to these dreams because they’re expected. But we learn at the end of the movie tht these dreams are true in a way. And all of these people are standing waiting for Paul to come to them. They run to embrace him and love him into the kingdom for he, Paul, was the way God used to bring them home.

Today is the Feast of St. Paul and St. Peter. I find myself wondering who might hate St Peter, who might have been in his dreams. What were his nightmares? But I don’t have to look very far. This man denied Christ three times – at the darkest part of night. This man’s rock-solid faith was torn up by a young woman tending a fire. And if the Evil One – who makes anything that is terrifying – is going to make nightmares for the Pope, I can imagine it would be about the time that he said no to Jesus, to the faith, to his very self. He would have to wake up knowing that God’s grace is sufficient.

Paul and Peter would have been, at one point enemies (at least in Paul’s mind). So it is no wonder that he avoided the Apostolic community for so long. Yet they were moved by grace even then, to know that God loves sinners and brings us home. Grace builds on nature and Paul’s scholarship easily faces off against both Jewish and Gentile debaters. Peter’s down home fisherman folksy style wins in a leadership role. And all of it with the Holy Spirit taking these two men, these two great sinners, further and further away from where they were.

God’s grace is sufficient. It is a mantra

How many of us have similar theological nightmares? Knowing that we have come to the throne of the all merciful God, knowing that we are surrounded by an omniscient and omnipotent love… but…

There are very few temptations I’ve had that I didn’t give into. Very few people I could have hurt that I didn’t, very few people I could have led into sin that I didn’t. Very few people I could have misled that I didn’t. I’ve walked down dark roads leading others as a blind guide of the blind. And sometimes as a seeing guide. Certainly God can’t forget that, nor is there a reason for me to be forgiven those sins. In my dreams and memories it is those moments, long confessed and absolved, that haunt me. It’s not all that different from killing or betraying in that any sin is a loss of love, a betrayal, and ending of the life that God gives us.

There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t think I want or need to go back. There’s not a confession I give that doesn’t mention something from my past, something that haunts me that maybe I need to confess again, or at least admit I’m still attached to. These nightmares that leave me paralyzed, alone in the basement, sometimes: fearful that I can’t even go outside lest I fall back again into my past. I fought the church actively, I rejected the church fully, I betrayed the church completely. But, as Mom said to me, “The Lord never lets go, does he?”

And at the head of the Church we find these two great sinners… that God has pulled from hell into heaven.

The church’s catalogue of the Holy has a number of folks who just fell into God’s hands from an early age… but it’s filled to the brim with folks who needed rescuing, from basic sins, from garden variety apostasy, from heresy, from the pits of hell that we call human culture, from the dens of iniquity we call society. Some were harlots, some were pimps, some were slaves, some were sadists, some were filthy rich, some were kings or jesters. All have learned that God’s grace is sufficient.

There’s so much hope, so much joy, so much unbearable lightness of absolution in the grace that God gives us so freely, so powerfully, so gently.

I stop because it’s too emotional from here. But these two great kings who were sinners stand either side of the river of the water of life, and we can pass them because we are noble like them in that we need the same grace, the same power, the same God to bring us forward into his royal city.

Come to the water. Come buy without money the food that is without price. Come… See… Taste.

Live.

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