The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
(Acts 12:1-11; II Timothy 4:6-8.17-18)
One of the most interesting tours available in Rome is a visit to the scavi (that is Italian for diggings) behind St. Peter’s Basilica. Partakers descend not only below the earth but through time learning on the way both Church and Roman history. The climax of the journey is a little vault directly beneath the altar of the basilica where the bones of the chief apostle are believed kept. No one can verify that the remains actually belonged to St. Peter, but an argument can be made for it.
We can be sure that Peter stayed in Rome, but what he did there is uncertain. If he was commissioned to preach the gospel to all nations, would he have spent his time overseeing the affairs of the local church? More likely he used Rome as an itinerant preacher today prefers to live in proximity of an airport facilitating travel in any direction. Paul, we might remember, told the Romans in his letter that his stop there would be a stepping stone to Spain. In time, however, the bishops who assumed direction of the Church of Rome also took on the task of managing apostolic endeavors the world over.
We should not forget just how good the news of the gospel is. Added to the promise of eternal life, hearers of the gospel are invited into a community of equality, freedom of spirit, and genuine care for their well-being. Today we celebrate the two most illustrious preachers of the gospel. Both paid for the privilege with martyrdom. It is an occasion for all Christians to give thanks to God.