Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Saints Peter and Paul

Today in the Church we celebrate a big day - the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, two pillars of Catholicism. Some find their pairing odd and some see the two as representing two different missions of the Church. Saint Peter is often thought of as the "administrator", the establishment, etc. because of his being appointed to head the Church. On the contrary, Saint Paul is often portrayed as the prophet, the guy working off the reservation, constantly battling cautious administrators. In support of these caricatures, some point to the passage in the Acts of the Apostles where St. Paul rebukes St. Peter and gets St. Peter to change his mind on an administrative decision.

However, these two saints illustrate the futility (and the heresy) of thinking that a person should be boxed in as either administrator (earthly) or a prophet (spiritual). In Galatians, we see a VERY important passage linking these two great men. Saint Paul notes, "After fourteen years, I went up to Jerusalem...and I laid out for their scrutiny the gospel as I present it to the Gentiles - all this in private conference with the leaders, to make sure the course I was pursuing, or had pursued, was not useless...and recognizing, too, the favor bestowed on me, those who were the acknowledged pillars, James, Cephas [Peter], and John, gave Barnabas and me the handclasp of fellowship."

This is such an awesome passage, and one that Martin Luther would have been mindful to read. Luther quotes almost exclusively from St. Paul to justify his crusade against the Church - playing off of the caricature of St. Paul as simply a guy who went around preaching the authentic Gospel free from the constraints of the "visible Church". In the passage above we see St. Paul SUBMITTING himself and his teaching to the leadership of St. Peter and checking in to make sure his message was in line with the teaching of the Universal Church! WOW!

Authentic prophets, like St. Paul, never work OUTSIDE the Church, and we do well to remember this passage when we start to think of the Church as stuffy, stifling, and burdensome. Prophecy and administration, the holy and the human, the visible and the spiritual, can and should be BOTH present in each of us.

In both of these men we see where authentic discipleship leads. May we follow them both to the Kingdom!

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