30 June 2010

Commemoration of Saint Paul

The Church's ancient calendar spends three days celebrating the great Saints Peter and Paul. Monday and yesterday, on the vigil and the feast day, the Mass focuses on Saint Peter. Today, Saint Paul, the light to the Gentiles, is particularly remembered. Today's Epistle, Galatians 1: 11-20, recounts St. Paul's own transition from observant Jew to faithful Christian, and is a ready metaphor for the the larger transition from the Old to the New Covenant; not only is the Gospel to be preached to the Gentile, but the New Covenant of Christ now supersedes and supplants-- in that it fulfills-- the Old Covenant of the Law:

For I give you to understand, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For neither did I receive it of man: nor did I learn it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion: how that, beyond measure, I persecuted the church of God and wasted it. And I made progress in the Jew's religion above many of my equals in my own nation, being more abundantly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased him who separated me from my mother's womb and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles: immediately I condescended not to flesh and blood. Neither went I to Jerusalem, to the apostles who were before me: but I went into Arabia, and again I returned to Damascus. Then, after three years, I went to Jerusalem to see Peter: and I tarried with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles I saw none, saving James the brother of the Lord. Now the things which I write to you, behold, before God, I lie not.

And what does it mean now to be a child of the New Covenant? What, if anything, has supplanted Israel as the chosen people of God? The Church is the answer. The Church is not a mere institution, it is the living body of Christ, made up of sinners but a spotless bride without defect. As Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen points out in his discussion of the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, this feast should awaken in our souls a greater love for the Church and for our Holy Father the Pope:

"Where Peter is, there is the Church" (St. Ambrose). This means that wherever the Pope, Peter's successor, is, there the Church is.... At the moment of her death, St. Teresa of Jesus repeated: "I am a daughter of the Church!" After having labored so much for God and souls, this was the only title that made her sure of the divine mercy. To be a child of the Church! This is our title to salvation, this is our glory, after that of being a child of God. Or rather, not after, but together with, for, as the Fathers of the Church say, "He cannot have God for Father who does not have the Church for Mother" (St. Cyprian). He is not a true Catholic who does not feel the joy of being a child of the Church, whose heart does not vibrate for the Church and for the Vicar of Christ upon earth, who is not ready to renounce his own personal views in order to "sentire cum Ecclesia," to think with the Church, always and in all things.

Christ has given us all the means of salvation we need. He has given us Himself, and established His Church, founded on Peter as a rock, and built upon the the teachings, works, and the very lives-- to the shedding of blood-- of great saints like Peter and Paul. The Church is under attack by the enemy at all times, from the beginning to now, and from now until the final victory. What should be our response to her sufferings? Again, from the Divine Intimacy:

...Suffer with your Mother; pray, work, and use your strength to serve and defend her. Lay aside your own little personal interests and consecrate yourself-- your life, your works, your prayers, your silent, hidden sacrifices-- to the great interests of the Church.

Certainly the Church is undergoing a severe trial; clearly the faithlessness and sins of many members wound her, and through Her wound Christ. This is all the more reason to be faithful to her, for who would wish to abandon Our Lord on the cross? As Monsignor Gilles Wach has often observed: We do not save the Church; the Church saves us.

Let us use this occasion of the Feast days we now observe to renew our efforts to be faithful sons and daughters of the Mother who saves us.

St. Peter, pray for us!
St. Paul, pray for us!

1 comment:

Peter said...

Technically speaking, the Church's ancient calendar sends more than three days celebrating Ss. Peter and Paul, because for many centuries this great feast also had an Octave. This octave was sadly abolished in 1955, another victim of the pre-Vatican II liturgical reforms.