Saints Peter and Paul
- Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build (Ps. 127:1)
Warned Gamaliel his fellow council members sitting in judgment of Peter and the other apostles (Acts 5:35-39):
- Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men. Some time ago,
- Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him,
- but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing.
- After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him,
- but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered. So now I tell you,
- have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity
- is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not
- be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.
Persuaded, the Sanhedrin let the apostles go after they had been flogged and ordered to stop speaking in the name of Jesus.
Saul was apparently not persuaded by the respected teacher at whose feet he testified in his own defense to have been educated strictly in Jewish law (Acts 22:3). Perhaps Saul was not at the council meeting and was never even told of Gamaliel’s intervention during the proceedings. In any case, Saul not only consented to protomartyr Stephen’s execution; he became, in fact, a recognizable leader in the severe persecution of the early Christians. He tried to destroy the church, entering house after house and dragging out men and women, whom he then handed for imprisonment (Acts 8:1-3; 22:4-5; 26:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13, 23).
Admittedly, the persecution in Jerusalem resulted in the scattering of all except the apostles. But the dispersal did not at all mean disbanding, for it led to the conversion of the Samaritans and also of an Ethiopian (Acts 8:4-17, 25-39). God indeed, as I already mentioned two weeks ago, can write straight with crooked lines; he can write straight even on the crooked lines of human history, making crooked ways straight and rough ways smooth. So then, Jesus’ promise stood then, the promise that the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against the church.
It did not matter, therefore, in the end that Saul was bent on seeking the destruction of the church. For Jesus showed he was in control when he turned Saul, a fanatical persecutor, into Paul, a zealous and tireless apostle to the undeserving nations. It was likewise of no great consequence that Peter’s behavior was not as courageous as his word, since Jesus, praying for him, made sure that Peter was supplied with love and the wherewithal to serve as the solid and stable rock foundation of the church, as a source of strength for his brothers and sisters and as their pastor (Lk. 22:31-33; Jn. 21:15-17; cf. Rom. 8:28-29; 1 Cor. 8:1).
There is no need, it seems to me therefore, for the faithful who are fearful, for instance, of a revisionist view of Vatican II prevailing today, or of a trend in the church to return to the pre-Vatican II church, to be excessively concerned, any more than there is need for those in the hierarchy to huff and puff about, say, theological precision or about the church appearing to be losing ground in societies perceived to have been the church’s stronghold for centuries (cf. “Una palabra de aliento,” at ). For Jesus’ promise still stands and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against the church. God can still raise up children to Abraham from the stones (Mt. 3:9). He can still right our wrongs and make up for our errors, mistakes, deficiencies, failures and sins. He still rescues us from the hands of today’s Herods and from the worse of the expectations of the people who disagree with us. He can make us rise above our differences and come to an agreement benefiting the poor (cf. Gal. 2:10). God is in control yet. To us is given the task to plant and to others, that of watering, but it is always and only God who causes the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). We are surely expected to work harder than anyone and not let God’s grace to us be without effect; yet it is always to be acknowledged that we are what we are by God’s grace and success is not to be credited to us but to the grace of God that is with us (1 Cor. 15:10).
And a sure sign, I am afraid, that we give the credit to ourselves rather than to God—that we lack trust in Providence and are given to inordinate concern and arrogant self-righteousness—is when we constantly point the finger at someone other than ourselves and resort to means that are not in accordance with Jesus’ teaching on service and authority in the church. Christians, leaders and led alike, are to be understanding, bearing all things in love, are to look not only to their own interests but also to the interests of others, to those of Jesus Christ especially, and they are not to lord it over others (1 Pt. 3:7; 1 Cor. 13:7; Phil. 2:4, 21; Mt.20:24-28; Mk. 10:41-45; Lk. 22:24-27; cf. the decree concerning Sister Louise Lears, S.C., at ).
We are Christians, in other words, if we live what we celebrate in the Eucharistic liturgy, namely, Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the cross. And living a Eucharistic life supposes that we commend our spirit into the hands of our Father, that we are in step, as St. Vincent de Paul was, with Providence or, as St. Alberto Hurtado, S.J., put it, we work at God’s rhythm, knowing full well we are no longer our own (cf. “Trabajar al ritmo de Dios” and “’Ya no sois vuestros’” in Un fuego que enciende otros fuegos: páginas escogidas de San Alberto Hurtado; 1 Cor 6:19). It means being able to say honestly, in the manner of St. Francis of Assisi, that we are doing the part Christ—not flesh and blood, if I may add—taught us, without recriminations against anybody, guarding ourselves against laziness and mediocrity as well as against undisciplined enthusiasm and indiscreet zeal, competing well, that is to say, finishing the race, and keeping the faith (; Common Rules, XII, 11). If thus we live, we become part of God’s unstoppable work and mission to the world, one with Saints Peter and Paul, chosen by Jesus—they did not choose him, as prospective students would choose Rabbis of great reputation—as founding fathers of the church (Jn. 15:16; cf. “Celebrating Peter and Paul” at ).