In these days where there is little to report about in terms of live sport here in Scotland, the sports programme “pundits”, especially on the radio, resort to some standard “time filling” tactics. They can while away an hour or two simply by putting together a team of the best players over a long period of time. Then they justify their choice, player by player, throughout the team – in terms of what they would consider to be the best Scotland team ever or the best World 11 or the best to don the green and white or blue and white.
There’s only so much that I can take of this before it becomes a bit on the boring side and my interest wanes. Anyway, needs must. I don’t envy the task of those who put together the sports programmes in time of pandemic.
It occurred to me today that this is not something that we would ever attempt to do in relation to the Church and to compiling, in spiritual fantasy fashion, the best college of apostles ever, taking into account all the saints down through the ages. Imagine Augustine and Thomas Aquinas teaming up, or Catherine of Siena and Francis working together, or Patrick and Anthony of Padua alongside one another?
We don’t do this in the case of the apostles since the Church has always had a great reverence and respect for these founding fathers in the Body of Christ.
That is, of course, in spite of the fact that the list of the apostles brings us to a collection of individuals who, for the most part, we really know nothing about. Bartholomew, James the less, Thaddeus and company are not the best known in terms of the details of their lives and works. Ironically, the ones we do know better are notable in terms of their weakness and human frailty, in the case of Peter – or in terms of suspicion at their background and past history, in the case of Paul.
At the heart of who they are, we do not so much uncover personal and individual greatness. What we see is the guiding power of the Lord given to those first apostles and continuing as Paul sets out on his mission.
The choice of the apostles, the preeminent position of Peter and the appointment of the great apostle Paul to the gentiles are surely witness to the power of God’s grace. That grace is seen from the very outset of Peter’s vocation when Jesus says to the fisherman in his boat – Do not be afraid, from now on it is men you will catch That grace is reinforced on those many occasions when Peter gets it wrong, when he falls and falls again, when Peter denies his Lord. God’s grace in Christ Jesus is more than enough.
That grace is seen when Saul becomes Paul, when he falls from his horse to the ground on the road to Damascus. God’s grace brings Paul to walk in a new light and to give thanks continually for the grace of God at work in him. To journey to the different Churches and to write to them, inspired again in his writing by the grace of God.
There is something essential, however, about the way in which this grace is conferred. The infant Church must have know Peter well and known about his impetuosity and his frequent lapses. They knew of it but it doesn’t seem to have been a barrier to the trust which they place in this first shepherd. Surely that is a sign of the presence of God’s grace living in that early Church and reflecting the grace of God in the pattern of its life and relationships.
Again, surely that grace is seen in the openness of the early church to accepting Paul in spite of who he was and what he had done. Would it not have been easier to maintain suspicion about this converted Pharisee and reject him from having any role in the sharing of the gospel. Sorry, Saul, but we can’t take the risk! Again, cynicism and suspicion is overcome by acceptance and ultimately welcome. God’s grace triumphs again in the life of the community.
As we honour these two great apostolic figures, Peter and Paul, let us be aware that the continuing presence of the grace of God, channelled and lived by the community of faith today is no less vital that it was in the day of the apostles. We must try to be a people free from cynicism and judgement, open to continually seeing God at work before us. It’s a great encouragement for us then to imitate them in accepting in our lives the transforming grace of God, in seeing this as one of the truest hallmarks of the Church and of continually be able to rejoice at seeing God’s grace and goodness at work in each other – and even, truly and humbly, in ourselves.
Feast of Saint Peter and Paul
28th June 2020.