“Let us imitate the strength, generosity, and humility of Saints Peter and Paul”
The Pope’s words in introducing the Marian prayer
At 12 noon today, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the Holy Father Francis looked out of the studio window in the Vatican Apostolic Palace to recite the Angelus with the pilgrims and faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square.
These were the Pope’s words in introducing the Marian prayer:
Before the Angelus
Dear brothers and sisters, buongiorno!
In the Gospel for today, the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul, Jesus says to Simon, one of the Twelve: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18). Peter is a name that has several meanings: it can mean rock, stone, or simply, pebble. And, in fact, if we look at Peter’s life, we discover a bit of all three of these aspects of his name.
Peter is a rock: there are many times when he is strong and steady, genuine and generous. He leaves everything to follow Jesus (cf. Lk 5:11); he recognizes Christ, the Son of the living God (Mt 16:16); he dives into the sea to go quickly toward the Risen One (cf. Jn 21:7). Then, he boldly and courageously proclaims Jesus in the Temple, before and after being arrested and flogged (cf. Acts 3:12-26; 5:25-42). Tradition tells us also about his steadfastness when facing martyrdom, which happened right here (cf. Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians, V,4).
Peter, however, is also a stone: he is a rock and also a stone, able to offer support to others – a stone that, founded on Christ, acts as a support to the brothers and sisters for the building up of the Church (cf. 1 Pt 2:4-8; Eph 2:19-22). We discover this too in his life: he responds to Jesus’s call together with Andrew, his brother, James and John (cf. Mt 4:18-22); he confirms the Apostles’ desire to follow the Lord (cf. Jn 6:68); he cares for those who suffer (cf. Acts 3:6); he promotes and encourages the communal proclamation of the Gospel (cf. Acts 15:7-11). He is “stone”, a reliable point of reference for the entire community.
Peter is a rock, he is a stone, and he is also even a pebble: his littleness emerges often. At times he does not understand what Jesus is doing (cf. Mk 8:32-33; Jn 13:6-9); when confronted with Jesus’s arrest, Peter allows fear to overtake him and denies Jesus, then repents and weeps bitterly (cf. Lk 22:54-62), but he does not find the courage to stand under the cross. He locks himself in with the others in the Upper Room out of the fear of being captured (cf. Jn 20:19). In Antioch, he is embarrassed to be with converted pagans – and Paul calls him out on this and asks him to be consistent regarding this (cf. Gal 2:11-14); in the end, according to the Quo vadis tradition, he tries to flee when faced with martyrdom, but meets Jesus on the road and regains the courage to turn back.
This is all in Peter: the strength of the rock, the reliability of the stone, and the littleness of a simple pebble. He is not a superman – he is a man like us, like every one of us, who says “yes” generously to Jesus in his imperfection. But it is exactly like this that – just as in Paul and in all the saints – it appears that it is God who makes Peter strong with his grace, who unites us with his love, and forgives us with his mercy. And it is with this true humanity that the Spirit forms the Church. Peter and Paul were real people. And today, more than ever, we need real people.
Now, let us take a look inside and ask ourselves some questions starting from the rock, from the stone and from the pebble. From the rock: Is there ardor, zeal, passion for the Lord and for the Gospel in us? Or is there something that easily crumbles? And then, are we stones, not stumbling blocks, but the kind with which the Church can be constructed? Do we work for unity, are we interested in others, especially in the weakest? Finally, thinking of the pebble: Are we aware of our littleness? And above all, in our weakness, do we entrust ourselves to the Lord who accomplishes great things through those who are humble and sincere?
May Mary, Queen of the Apostles, help us imitate the strength, the generosity and the humility of Saints Peter and Paul.