God gives up on no one

By Fr. Mark Vander Steeg | June 26, 2014

June 29 is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul on the church calendar. When this solemnity falls on a Sunday we have the opportunity throughout the world to reflect on these two great men at Mass. Their lives led them on very different paths of evangelization. St. Paul is noted for being sent by the Holy Spirit to be the preeminent apostle to the Gentiles. St. Peter stayed back for some time with the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem before heading north to lead the church at Antioch for a time as their bishop.

Each of these men would find their life ending in Rome through execution. St. Peter would be crucified by Nero and then buried in the cemetery on Vatican hill. This is where his bones remain to this day under the High Altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, which was built over the cemetery. St. Paul would be privately beheaded outside the city of Rome. His mortal remains still lie there, under the altar of the Basilica of St. Paul outside the ancient walls.

Their lives give great witness to how God gives up on no one. Their lives also show how God can capitalize on one’s tragic past. St. Peter in the Gospel selection for the Mass of the day professes that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is so moved that he recognizes that the Father in heaven has revealed this truth to Peter. Jesus confirms that Peter will be the foundation of the new community, the church, and will lead the apostles forward. He changes his name from Simon to Peter, which means “rock,” and then shares with him access to the authority of the kingdom of God.

This same Peter will go on to betray Jesus, like many of us, and still be reinstated as chief shepherd after the resurrection. God uses the weakness of Peter to perhaps soften his heart, showing him his vulnerability and his need to absolutely rely on God. This will serve Peter well. Recall that earlier Jesus said to Peter, anticipating his betrayal, “but I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail, and when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Nothing is wasted with God.

St. Paul too has a dark past. He was partly responsible for the murder of St. Stephen through his condoning of Stephen’s stoning. He also severely disrupted countless early believing families of Jews who came to accept Christ and whom he prosecuted. St. Paul tried to stamp out Christianity. Jesus however appears to him and calls St. Paul to be one of the greatest missionaries of the church and a major author of the New Testament. What a freeing from guilt must have been granted St. Paul that allowed him to write innumerable quotes cherished in the hearts of so many believers within the New Testament.

Neither Peter nor Paul allowed themselves to be stuck in their past. It was always forward with Christ, unto life everlasting.

Questions to Ponder
1. How can the sorrows and regrets in my life be used for God’s glory?
2. Can I give all persons the continual opportunity to change?

Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay.

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