Only if a seed falls, dies, shall it bear life (John 12:24).
Today, the Church honors two of her seeds which gave way for many lives to flourish: Sts. Peter and Paul.
In one of his homilies, St. Augustine of Hippo noted that the two were not just some mere obscure martyrs. Make no mistake about them, they are not your run-of-the-mill technocrats who merely stayed in the comforts of their rooms to strategize their next move.
Indeed, they were luminaries in the early Christian community whose voyages helped expanded the Church’s boundaries beyond Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Evangelization is surely God’s work, but these are His great two pillars.
Since Peter saw himself unworthy to be crucified the same way as Jesus, at his own request, he was crucified upside down. Paul, on the other hand, owing to his being a Roman citizen could not be executed through crucifixion. Hence, he was beheaded.
The Bible is silent in this regard; these accounts were rendered to us by tradition.
Our common Biblical knowledge about Peter makes us see him as the leader of the pack. For sure, Jesus’ promise to Peter (Mt 16:17-19) which we hear in our Gospel this Sunday, provides a certain preeminence over the other apostles.
Paul, on the other hand, became a missionary par excellence, who did not just preach the Word, but also dialogued with various cultures in order to plant the seed of Christianity.
Yes, these two may have great qualities, but their weakness is not something hidden from us. We honor them today—mindful of their sanctity and their weakness.
And yet, no less than Jesus Himself handpicked these two despite their imperfections.
Peter was an impulsive lot. When Jesus was to be arrested by a detachment of soldiers led by Judas, Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave (John 18:10).
It was the same Peter whom Jesus reproached when Peter walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:30-31)
And worst of all, Peter betrayed Jesus at the very moment when the latter might have the greatest need of the former.
Paul, on the other hand, is on a par with Peter.
For one, he was once a zealous persecutor of Christ (Acts 9:4; Acts 22:7; Acts 26:14). He was even present when Stephen, reputably the first Christian martyr, met his death.
Second, he needed to tame his tongue; he lashed out to the Galatians “You foolish! Who has bewitched you?” (3:1). I mean, he heralds Christ; he is supposed to know better.
And finally, he may be a lettered man (owing to the many epistles he wrote left and right?) but someone from the Corinthians grumbled about him that “when you see him in person, he makes no impression and his powers of speaking are negligible” (Cor 10:10).
And yet despite these, Jesus went beyond their weakness and chose these two to lead His community.
Yes, today, we honor these two great saints whose pasts are tainted with frailty and sin. And yet the mercy of God prevailed that they merited a love which they do not deserve.
And perhaps, we are also being asked if we could extend our compassion and understanding to our Church leaders who are far from being angels, who have their own share of struggles, who are also, like Sts. Peter and Paul, imperfect.
That in spite of them, God may continue to carry out His work.
Even through them.