This week there has been great jubilation up and down the land. The newspapers proclaim that pubs can be opened again. While some of us may be happy at this prospect, the bigger news for people of Faith is that Places of Worship will be permitted to open if they can meet the conditions placed by the Government. As parishes, we await the final guidance from the Bishop, but this is a time to rejoice! We will be able to celebrate together again the Eucharist of the Lord. We look forward to this, but as I mentioned last week, parishes will need volunteers to ensure we can meet the Government’s conditions. Please get in touch with your Parish if you can help.
Last week I mentioned that I was praying with a Parishioner for a young unborn baby, tragically the baby died earlier this week. Please remember this family in your prayers.
Today we celebrate the joint feast day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Saint Peter the fisherman remembered for denying Jesus three times, who was then appointed as the rock on which Jesus would build his Church. St Paul, a tentmaker and Pharisee who was an approving witness to the first martyrdom for Christ; as he looked after the cloaks of those who through the stones. Two men who, in their own way denied Christ at times, but who were called to mission by Christ one to be a fisher of men and the other to bring the Gentiles into the tent of the chosen people.
I find St Peter to be a very human character, one I can really relate to. He did not see himself as worthy. In one of their first encounters Peter said to Jesus “Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Peter seemed to be the Apostle who would ask questions, he had an inquisitive mind e.g. when he asked Jesus to explain the parable aimed at the Pharisees of the blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:15) (Mark 7:17), or when he tried to apply human wisdom when Jesus questioned who had touched him in a crowd (Luke 8:45) and when he applied the fight or flight trait at the arrest of Jesus by cutting off the ear of one of those sent to detain Jesus (John 18:10) and in the three denials I mentioned earlier.
St Paul’s mission was to take the Gospel to the Gentiles; those who were not Jewish; he did this by travelling and by writing. The New Testament has many of his letters and letters attributed to him; many of which are used in our Liturgy throughout the year. St Paul did not shirk the awkward subjects; he loved the Communities he helped to establish, and he was not afraid to criticise them when he was made aware of errors or of straying from the path to eternal life.
In today’s first reading we hear how Herod Agrippa was persecuting the early Christian leaders, James the brother of John was beheaded, and Peter was imprisoned, with most no doubt expecting a similar fate for Peter. How did the Christian community respond? They did not rise up and demand his release, they prayed unremittingly. As we have read, their prayers were answered with what St Peter thought was a dream, he was led out of the prison cell by an angel, shackles falling away, doors opening, guards asleep at their posts, only once Peter was safe did he awaken and by then the angel had left him. Can you imagine the rage the following morning when Herod realised that his prize prisoner was no longer there? Can you imagine the joy of those whose prayers were answered? Fortunately for us we do not have to imagine either of these two reactions because if we pick up the story where our first reading today leaves it there is a very descriptive account of how amazed the faithful were and how outraged Herod was. One story with two very different reactions (Acts 12:12-19).
When we are troubled do we turn to the Lord and pray unremittingly – like the faithful did in the first reading? Do we share the confidence of those in today’s psalm “I sought the Lord and he answered me, from all my terrors he set me free.” And “This poor man called the Lord heard him, and rescued him from all his distress.”? The power of prayer is often underestimated. Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God (CCC2539). Throughout the Gospels, Jesus always took time to pray; to maintain his relationship with his Father. We are called to do this too. We are called to have a relationship with God, we do this by prayer. It is significant for us as Catholics, that the church buildings are opening for private prayer before we can start to celebrate public Liturgies again. This can represent for us entering the garden of Gethsemane with Jesus, to spend time with the Father, and be strengthened by the Spirit, before we start to celebrate Christ’s Passion at our Holy Mass again.
Our second reading has St Paul emphasising that his faith in Jesus has empowered him to carry out his ministry of reaching out to all nations, this faith is so strong that he knows the Lord will recue him from all evil and carry him to the sanctuary of heaven. This is a faith which we are all given at our baptism, it is a faith we all need to exercise.
In our Gospel Jesus asks, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” He is of course talking about himself. When some answers are offered by the apostles of various prophets’ names, Jesus asks a second question, “Who do you say I am?” It is Peter who replies with the statement “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. This momentous moment in our history when man first declares Jesus as the Christ brings an equally historical reply from Jesus, as he names Peter as the rock upon which His Church will be built. From that moment began the Apostolic succession which has brought us almost two thousand years later to the Papacy of Pope Francis.
This question which Jesus asked was not just for the apostles all those years ago. It is an eternal question, which we are called to answer. So, who do you say that Jesus is? How do we as Christians in 2020 profess that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God? What does the Holy Spirit prompt you to say or do when you hear these questions? What do your answers prompt you to do?
Last Saturday terror returned to the streets of Britain, with the evil attack of innocent people enjoying the sunshine in a park. This park which is just along the road from St James’ Church and the grounds of the ancient Reading Abbey. I pray for the victims of this cowardly attack, for those grieving and for those recovering from their injuries. I also pray for a change of heart for who would bring this terror to any town. May they find another way to make their point. The message from Jesus is that violence is never the answer; Jesus preached a message of love and forgiveness, he calls us to repent and to follow him.
Finally as we are celebrating the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, I am reminded of how special a day this is for the parishioners from Kingsclere. The church there closed a few years ago now and it was dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, but I am reminded of that small church every time I enter St Bede’s as the Stations of the Cross from Kingsclere have found a new home there.
I wish you a Holy Sunday and a blessed week.
Deacon Tony Darroch, 26th June 2020.
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