Today we celebrate the feast of two great saints; saints we consider, after Christ, to be the very cornerstones of the Church. Two great saints and yet two very human creatures. Paul the persecutor of Christians; Peter who denied Christ three times. And yet it is entirely typical of the way God deals with his people that these two unlikely characters should become such important figures in the establishment of the Church.
God chooses the weak to confound the strong. And he so often intervenes in the lives of the most unlikely people so as to bring about a conversion. A complete turn around; so that instead of undermining the action of God in the world they actively promote it.
Two great saints so well balanced with complimentary gifts. Peter, the Prince of Apostles, the touchstone of unity in the Church to this very day. And Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, the first and the greatest Christian Missionary. These two poles of unity and mission are the hallmarks of the Catholic Church. They are at the root of our faith and each one of us needs to reflect them in our own lives. We need to constantly review our lives to see we are actively building up the unity of the Church and that we are also widening its boundaries.
You might say that this is too big a task for one person and you would be right. But nothing will be done unless each one accepts his or her share of responsibility for these things. You can get a situation where everyone thinks that unity within the parish is a good idea but yet nobody does much about it; then all you need are one or two people who act divisively and everything falls apart.
Each one of us must actively strive to build up unity within our Christian community. That means we must work together, socialise together and pray together. If no one did any work around here, if no one bothered to socialise and if no one took the trouble to pray or worship together this would not even be a parish.
Thankfully we do all these things. We do them all quite well, but, as our schoolteachers so often told us, we could do better. Take those three things, working, socialising and praying, and let each of us resolve to do a little more in each of these areas and you would see this parish transform from a good one to a really excellent one.
The same goes for the family. There we have also to work, socialise and pray together in order to be a fully functioning family. I think we have the ideal opportunity to do these three things around the family table. When we prepare a meal there is work to be done and it shouldn’t all fall on one person. The food needs to be bought and prepared, the table must be set, the food served, the dishes washed and everything cleared up. When each person plays his or her part the whole family works together smoothly and we all feel better as a result.
Because of the different generations within the family socialising can sometimes be difficult. We don’t all like the same kinds of music or the same kinds of trips out. But around the table we generally have little problem socialising with each other, we can share our experiences and no one needs to dominate. It is really not so difficult to avoid arguments for an hour at mealtimes!
We know that prayer is quite often difficult within the family. It was perhaps OK when we were little and our parents helped us to say our prayers. But as we grow older it can feel embarrassing and we don’t all have the same degree of faith, and while it might be fine to worship alongside each other in Church it is not quite so easy to pray together in the home.
But grace before meals is still considered an acceptable ritual. We should take care not to lose it and if we have lost it we should try to reinstate it. Perhaps we might introduce it on a special occasion and then try to keep it going on Sundays or whenever we sit down as a family to eat.
A good way is for someone to say the simple prayer that we know so well: Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Then perhaps each one could briefly say aloud some intention they would like the others to pray for and then draw it together by saying: God bless the cook!
The family meal can provide us with a means of working on these three important areas of work, socialisation and prayer which can build up our families and make them really united.
That was unity—which we think of as symbolised by Peter, how about mission—which we think of as symbolised by Paul? If we were to briefly define it, we could say that mission is witness to the Gospel of Christ. We can give this witness in hundreds of ways.
This very building is a witness to Christ; the fact that many of our facilities are available for use by the community is a witness to his Gospel. The crucifix on your living room wall is a witness. The parishioners who visit the housebound and the hospital give witness. Just by coming to mass this morning you give witness—your neighbours know quite well where you are going!
Sending your children to a Catholic School, helping with the various societies in our parish, speaking up on an issue of justice at work, going to a funeral, all these give witness. Even the smallest of things can give testimony to Christ and so help build up his kingdom here on earth.
We are aware that the world is growing more and more secular and we might feel that the Gospel values are no longer reflected in the media and in the life of our nation. I was at a state-run secondary school recently and I was appalled at how few of the pupils knew the Our Father. Apart from being a spiritual loss, just from a cultural perspective this is a real deficiency.
There is no doubt at all that we Christians really have to do more on a national and local level to evangelise our society. But again this is not something that can be left to a few. All of us must play a part. We cannot be anonymous Christians in our world. We have to be identifiable. People will not be convinced by slogans or advertising, they will only be convinced by persons and we are those persons. Our task is to stand up and be counted for who we are and to demonstrate by our lives that Christ is our Lord and that we have found salvation in him.
SS Peter and Paul are our models and our guides and our real helpers in all these tasks. As they did we too can with the grace of Christ overcome our human weaknesses and be involved in building up the unity of the Church and widening its boundaries.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket