This weekend we celebrate the joint feast of the two great pillars of the early church, Peter and Paul. They couldn’t have been more different in background, education and experience, and the scriptures recall that they had at least one fierce argument, but the rapid growth of the church stemmed from their different gifts and different roles.
Paul is one of the patrons of our pastoral area because he spent so much time in prisons and we have a mission to two of the largest prisons in the country, here on our doorstep. He was also an intrepid traveller and a prolific writer, going to any lengths to spread the good news.
Peter, the impetuous fisherman whose mouth often ran ahead of his mind, had moments of insight into who Jesus was, like the time described in today’s Gospel when he was the one to say ‘You are the Christ’. He knew better than anyone the power of the Lord’s forgiveness.
The recent successors of Peter have been very different characters: John XXIII surprised everyone by calling the Second Vatican Council; Paul VI quietly and cautiously guided its completion and the struggle to follow it through; John Paul I smiled briefly at us all; John Paul II burst onto the world stage, travelling and writing incessantly; Benedict XVI shook people by standing down; and now we have Francis, breaking the mould again.
This week he said ‘I am just like each of you. We are all equal. We are all brothers and sisters. No one is anonymous: all form and build the Church… Have any of you ever noticed how ugly a tired, bored, indifferent Christian is? It’s an ugly sight. A Christian has to be lively, joyous, he has to live this beautiful thing that is the People of God, the Church. Do we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, so as to be an active part of our communities, or do we close in on ourselves, saying, “I have so many things to do, that’s not my job?”’ How will each of us, with our unique personality and gifts, respond to his challenge?