On 29th June we celebrated the Solemnity of Saint Peter, the first Pope (his role presently shouldered by Pope Francis) and Saint Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews). Should this date fall on a day other than Saturday or Monday, the Church declares it to be a Holy Day of Obligation; we are bound to go to Mass as we are on Sundays. The secular word ‘holiday’, (i.e. rest from work) is derived from this word. Centuries ago, Holy Days were the only days off, apart from Sundays, for the poor.
Both these men, in working to spread the Faith, wrote follow-up letters (in latin, 'epistola') to various members of the growing Church over the years, confirming and strengthening them in their Faith and resolving queries or disputes which arose. Saint Peter is credited with two Epistles, while Saint Paul’s output, as with his missionary travelling, is far more extensive, with extracts from his letters featuring regularly during the Mass. In those times, much was passed on by word of mouth as widespread literacy and the advent of printing were yet to come.
Both Peter and Paul were to die Martyrs’ deaths. Peter was crucified; humility moved him to request that he be crucified upside-down, as he felt unworthy to die in exactly the same manner as his Lord and God. Paul, claiming the privileges of Roman citizenship, requested that he be taken to Rome for trial.
Throughout his subsequent travels, he continued to seize every opportunity to evangelise, including the time he was shipwrecked on Malta. He finally reached Rome, where he continued to teach, suffering two terms of imprisonment, until he was beheaded under Nero.
Both men returned that ‘Love unto death’ shown them by Jesus and, in the following centuries, many other men and women, drawing courage from their example, would (and, indeed, still do!) relinquish their freedom and their lives on this earth, rather than deny the Truth that comes from God. Generally speaking, we are probably very unlikely to be asked to make this ultimate Profession of Faith. We may well, however, need to be prepared to face disbelief and even scorn, for living as faithful Christians. Are we willing to make the sacrifice, not necessarily of our life, but of our reputation?
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church