At first glance, lumping Peter and Paul together in one feast in the Church seems pretty strange. After all, there was a time in history when these two Jews, who could not have come from more different backgrounds, found themselves on opposite sides of a conflict.
Simon, before he became Peter, was an uneducated fisherman living his ordinary life until the Teacher who called him Peter designated him head not only of the apostles but also of the Church. And then we have Saul, who before he became Paul, was an ultra-conservative Pharisee who knew the Law by heart and made it his mission in life to persecute the Christians.
The history of suspicion, if not animosity, between these two men was probably not that easy to forget. This baggage may have been the reason why it took 14 years after Paul’s life-transforming conversion on that road to Damascus before he got to do some mission work–thanks to Barnabas, who took him to Antioch.
But despite the differences and conflict between them, Peter and Paul shared something very much in common. They were both men of excesses, who tended to be driven and ruled by their passions. Their love for the Lord was daring, even dangerous.
We see this trait so often manifested in the stories about Simon Peter, always the first to rush in to answer our Lord’s question, or to jump into the Sea of Galilee to try walking on the water, or to draw his sword on the night of the Lord’s arrest. Not always the most discerning among Jesus’ disciples, Simon Peter had the knack for putting his foot in his mouth, but the Lord must have loved him for it, and must have known that his impulsiveness was but a sympton of his love for the Lord. Just as importantly, Jesus recognized in Peter’s passion and drive his great potential for leadership.
Paul, on the other, was no less given to excesses, though in a different way. His zeal for the law and his devotion to Judaism made him a virtual fanatic and a much-feared persecutor of Christians. But again, the Lord must have also known that hidden and wrapped in this Pharisee’s fanaticism was a great heart that would define him as one of the Church’s greatest missionaries. This passion remained with Paul all throughout his life and grew even stronger during his missionary works. Some of the most heartfelt and moving lines from the New Testament are found in Paul’s letters because his words had been drawn from the deep well of his own suffering, embraced out of love for the Lord and his Church.
Today, on this shared feast of these two very different but also very similar apostles of the Lord, we examine ourselves and search our hearts for any hint of the excess manifested by Peter and Paul in their love for the Lord. Do we even have a flicker of their passion, a shred of their zeal for the Lord?
I’m afraid most of us will find our hearts–mine included–tepid in comparison. Many of us tend to be Christians by convenience, dutifully fulfilling the minimum requirements of our faith and staying within our comfort zones, our love for God risk-averse, far from daring and dangerous.
Now, just wondering out loud: Is it possible that today, God is asking us to show some excess in our love for Him, get a little carried away in serving Him? What would we lose if we did that, and what would our lives look like?
Image: El Greco