Pope: Peter and Paul, witnesses of life, forgiveness, and Jesus

On the solemnity of the two apostles, patron saints of the city of Rome, Pope Francis blessed 31 pallia for the archbishops and metropolitans ordained this year, including the archbishops of Cotabato (Philippines), Hà Nôi (Vietnam), Nagpur (India), Medan (Indonesia), Mandalay (Myanmar). The two apostles did not have “neat and linear” lives; indeed, the “Lord does not work miracles with those who consider themselves righteous, but with those who know themselves needy.” For the pope, the witness “is not someone who knows the story of Jesus, but someone who has experienced a love story with Jesus.” In his letters, “Paul repeats this name constantly, almost four hundred times”. Thus, “Let us ask for the grace not to be lukewarm Christians living by half measures, allowing our love to grow cold.”

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis led the Holy Mass today in St Peter’s Basilica for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. In his homily, the pontiff said that “Apostles Peter and Paul stand before us as witnesses”, witnesses of life, witnesses of forgiveness and witnesses of Jesus.

As per tradition, a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I was present, to strengthen the ties between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Francis met with the delegation yesterday.

On this day the Pope blesses the pallia for the various metropolitan archbishops appointed during the year. The pallium is the symbol of the Good Shepherd and of communion with the pontiff. The pallia were placed yesterday evening before the Confession of the Apostle Peter under the altar where the pontiff celebrated Mass. Some of the archbishops are from Asia: Mgr Angelito R. Lampon, OMI, archbishop of Cotabato (Philippines); Mgr Joseph Vu Van Thien, archbishop of Hà Nôi (Vietnam); Mgr Elias Joseph Gonsalves, archbishop of Nagpur (India); Mgr Kornelius Sipayung, OFM-Cap, Archbishop of Medan (Indonesia); Mgr Mark Tin Win, archbishop of Mandalay (Myanmar).

In his homily, Francis noted that their lives “were not neat and linear. Both were deeply religious: Peter was one of the very first disciples (cf. Jn 1:41), and Paul was ‘zealous for the traditions of [his] ancestors’ (Gal 1:14). Yet they also made great mistakes: Peter denied the Lord, while Paul persecuted the Church of God. Both were cut to the core by questions asked by Jesus: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (Jn 21:15); ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ (Acts 9:4).

“There is a great teaching here: the starting point of the Christian life is not our worthiness; in fact, the Lord was able to accomplish little with those who thought they were good and decent. Whenever we consider ourselves smarter or better than others, that is the beginning of the end. The Lord does not work miracles with those who consider themselves righteous, but with those who know themselves needy. He is not attracted by our goodness; that is not why he loves us. He loves us just as we are; he is looking for people who are not self-sufficient, but ready to open their hearts to him. [. . .] Both understood that holiness does not consist in exalting but rather in humbling oneself. Holiness is not a contest, but a question of entrusting our own poverty each day to the Lord, who does great things for those who are lowly.”

Peter and Paul were “witnesses to forgiveness. In their failings, they encountered the powerful mercy of the Lord, who gave them rebirth. In his forgiveness, they encountered irrepressible peace and joy. Thinking back to their failures, they might have experienced feelings of guilt. How many times might Peter have thought back to his denial! How many scruples might Paul have felt at having hurt so many innocent people! Humanly, they had failed. Yet they encountered a love greater than their failures, a forgiveness strong enough to heal even their feelings of guilt. Only when we experience God’s forgiveness do we truly experience rebirth. From there we start over, from forgiveness; there we rediscover who we really are: in the confession of our sins.

“Peter and Paul are ultimately witnesses to Jesus. [. . .] Jesus is not the past, but the present and the future. He is not a distant personage to be remembered, but the one to whom Peter can speak intimately: You are the Christ. For those who are his witnesses, Jesus is more than a historical personage; he is a living person: he is newness, not things we have already seen, the newness of the future and not a memory from the past. The witness, then, is not someone who knows the story of Jesus, but someone who has experienced a love story with Jesus.

“The witness, in the end, proclaims only this: that Jesus is alive and that he is the secret of life. Indeed, Peter, after saying: ‘You are the Christ’, then goes on to say: ‘the Son of the living God’ (v. 16). Witness arises from an encounter with the living Jesus. At the centre of Paul’s life too, we find that same word that rises up from Peter’s heart: Christ. Paul repeats this name constantly, almost four hundred times in his letters! For him, Christ is not only a model, an example, a point of reference: he is life itself. Paul writes: ‘For me to live is Christ’ (Phil 1:21). Jesus is Paul’s present and his future, so much so that he considers the past as refuse in comparison to the surpassing knowledge of Christ (cf. Phil 3:7-8).

“Brothers and sisters, in the presence of these witnesses, let us ask: ‘Do I renew daily my own encounter with Jesus?’ We may be curious about Jesus, or interested in Church matters or religious news. We may open computer sites and the papers, and talk about holy things. But this is to remain at the level of what are people saying? Jesus does not care about polls, past history or statistics. He is not looking for religion editors, much less ‘front page’ or ‘statistical’ Christians. He is looking for witnesses who say to him each day: ‘Lord, you are my life’.

“Let us ask for the grace not to be lukewarm Christians living by half measures, allowing our love to grow cold. Let us rediscover who we truly are through a daily relationship with Jesus and through the power of his forgiveness. Just as he asked Peter, Jesus is now asking us: ‘Who do you say that I am?’, ‘Do you love me?’ Let us allow these words to penetrate our hearts and inspire us not to remain content with a minimum, but to aim for the heights, so that we too can become living witnesses to Jesus.”