Mexico’s George Washington by Beverly Stevens Photo Credit: Beverly Stevens and Wikipedia He’s an unlikely George Washington. The ‘father of Mexico’s’ name is everywhere: on street signs, 1000 peso notes and in fact an entire state. Wreathed with laurels, often dressed like a Roman senator, monumental statues of Hidalgo preside over town plazas and traffic … Read more
Today is the feast day of Saint Oliver Plunkett. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Oliver Plunkett was born September 30, 1629 at Loughcrew, Oldcastle, Co Meath, Ireland. The first great formative influence on him was his uncle Patrick, a Cistercian monk, who was Abbot of St Mary’s in Dublin and then became bishop of Ardagh and later still of Meath. Oliver was sent to his uncle for his education.
In 1646, along with John Brennan from Kilkenny (a life-long friend and later archbishop of Cashel), Oliver accompanied Father Peter Scarampi. Due to delays and robbery, this proved a difficult journey that took almost a year. When he eventually arrived in Rome Oliver grew to love the city. By the time he was ordained priest in 1654, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland was well under way. As it was difficult for him to return home, he requested and was granted permission to remain in Rome. He becaming professor of theology at Propaganda Fide College (1657) and was also the agent representating the Irish bishops in Rome. When in 1669 he was appointed archbishop of Armagh, his uncle Patrick Plunkett was the only active Catholic bishop remaining in Ireland.
Oliver’s return was difficult. The people had faith, but lacked instruction and organisation. The priests of Armagh diocese resented the imposition on them of an “outsider” from Meath. In the absence of bishops, the priests had lost their discipline, and there were rivalries among religious and between them and the secular clergy. There were divisions among Catholics – between native Irish and Anglo-Irish. And his flamboyant and touchy colleague archbishop of Dublin, Peter Talbot, contested Oliver’s precedence and the primacy of the see of Armagh over Dublin.
In the first three years Oliver worked diligently to restore discipline. He established a school staffed by Jesuits in Drogheda for the education of young men and clergy. He pleaded for places in Rome for others, and travelled widely – often in disguise – confirming and instructing the people and promoting peace. But in 1673 the revelation that the Duke of York, the King’s brother and heir to the throne, had been a Catholic for years caused a storm in the English parliament and forced the tightening of the penal laws against Catholics both in England and Ireland. This led to the closing down of the school at Drogheda. By law Oliver should have registered with the authorities and waited for a ship to deport him, but he took a decision not to desert his flock and went into hiding. He weathered this crisis and continued his pastoral work as best he could, continually keeping in touch with Rome through letters to the Internuncio in Brussels.
But in England in 1678 an ex-Jesuit student Titus Oates fabricated his infamous “plot”. According to this there was an arrangement that the King (Charles II) was to be murdered and his Catholic brother James put on the throne. In Ireland a Catholic army supported by the Pope and France was alleged to be ready to rise in rebellion. Oliver again had to go into hiding. In December 1679 he was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle – in the next cell to Archbishop Peter Talbot of Dublin who had also been implicated in the plot. Talbot was quite ill and distressed and Plunkett forced his way in to him to console him and give him absolution before he died.
Only gradually did Oliver realise that he was being framed as the prime mover of a supposed Irish branch of the Popish plot . He was charged falsely with conspiring with foreign kingdoms to import troops through Irish ports. Brought to Dundalk for trial, the prosecution witnesses failed to attend: no jury in Ireland could have convicted him on such trumped-up charges. He was then taken to London for trial, but was not allowed time to bring his own witnesses and documents. Here, with four renegade priests testifying against him, he was convicted.
In the process of facing these false allegations and then death by being hanged, drawn and quartered, Oliver prayed and fasted. His servant and friend James McKenna and a fellow prisoner Fr Maurus Corker were the companions of his last days and he celebrated the Eucharist daily for the last week of his life. When his moment came, he was calm and at peace.
In his speech from the gallows at Tyburn, he detailed the charges brought against him and declared himself innocent. He forgave those who brought him from Ireland to London for trial, his judges who did not allow him time to bring his records and witnesses from Ireland, and all who concurred directly and indirectly in taking away his life. Finally, he asked forgiveness of all whom he ever offended. He was the last person to be martyred for the Catholic faith in England in 1681.
Saint Oliver Plunkett was beatified on May 21, 1920 by Pope Benedict XV, and was canonized on October 12, 1975 by Pope Paul VI at Rome Italy.
The name of Archbishop Plunket appears on the list of the 264 heroic servants of God who shed their blood for the Catholic Faith in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which was officially submitted for approval to the Holy See, and for which the Decree was signed by Leo XIII 9 Dec., 1886, authorizing their Cause of Beatification to be submitted to the Congregation of Rites. The Blessed Oliver Plunket’s martyrdom closed the long series of deaths for the faith, at Tyburn. The very next day after his execution, the bubble of conspiracy burst. Lord Shaftesbury, the chief instigator of the persecution, was consigned to the Tower, and his chief perjured witness Titus Oates was thrown into gaol. For a few years the blessings of comparative peace were restored to the Church of Ireland. (4)
Today is the feast day of Saint Junipero Serra. Ora pro nobis.
Junípero Serra was born Miguel Serra y Abram on November 24, 1713 in Petra, a farming village in Mallorca’s central plain. At the age of sixteen, Miguel entered the Franciscan friary and took the name Junípero, after St. Francis’ close friend.
Years of formation and study followed, and in 1744 he was named Professor of Philosophy at the monastery of San Francisco and at Lullian University. Serra was known as a bright, articulate scholar and a moving speaker as well as a clear, precise writer. In 1749 he responded to the call for Franciscan missionaries to the New World.
Father Serra’s first assignment was to the rugged, mountainous region of Sierra Gorda in Mexico. Here he remained for nine years, preaching to the Indians and strengthening the two missions already established in the area. Father Serra’s second assignment was to journey out from Mexico City into coastal villages and mining camps. In those eight years, despite a leg chronically infected and ulcerated after an insect bite, he walked over 6,000 miles on foot, preaching retreats and administering the sacraments.
In 1767 when the King of Spain banished the Jesuit Society from his dominions, the thirteen Jesuit missions in Baja California were suddenly left unstaffed. Father Junipero Serra was assigned the new Superior of Baja California. Within several years he was given orders to move into Alta California, or what today is known as the state of California. In 1769 Father Serra was appointed padre president of California.
Father Serra joined the expedition of Don Gaspar de Pórtola, ordered by the Spanish king to explore and occupy new territory. He reached San Diego on June 27, 1769 and founded there the first mission. From San Diego the party journeyed northward and in April, 1770 Father Serra founded San Carlos Borromeo at Carmel, the second mission. In his fifteen years as padre president, he established nine of his 21 missions, (among them Santa Barbara, San Luis Rey and San Francisco de Asis, popularly known as Dolores) each a one-day walk apart (about 30 miles), and linked by a dirt road called “El Camino Real.”
Father Junípero Serra personally oversaw the planning, construction, and staffing of each mission from his headquarters at Carmel. From Carmel he travelled on foot to the other missions along the California coast, to supervise mission work and to confer the sacrament of Confirmation. Biographers estimate that, still bothered by the infected leg, Father Serra walked more than 24,000 miles in California alone—–more than the journeys of Marco Polo and Lewis and Clark combined. He kept with determination to his watchword, “Always to go forward and never to turn back.”
The missions Father Serra founded had two purposes: to convert Indians to Catholicism, and to civilize these Indians by teaching them to farm and build. It was this two-fold purpose which caused Father Serra’s impact to be felt both religiously and historically. And it was his unusual ability to accomplish these purposes peacefully, that set him apart from others.
Saint Junipero Serra died 28 August 1784 of tuberculosis at Mission San Carlos, California of natural causes. Saint Serra was buried at Carmel, Monterey, California. He was beautified on 25 September 1988 by Pope John Paul II. He was canonized on 23 September 2015 by Pope Francis at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC.
Junipero Serra is the namesake of the Serra Club, an international Catholic organization dedicated to the promotion of vocations, and the support of seminarians and religious novices. Many of his letters and other writings have survived, and the diary of his travels to the west was published in the early 20th century.
Image: Crop of Oil painting of Father Junípero Serra. He was painted about 1700’s. (3)
The month of July is dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of the Redeemer. Supreme homage is given to the Sacred Blood. As we adore the Sacred Heart, because it is the Heart of Jesus, so we adore the Most Precious Blood.
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
St. John the Baptist (June 24) has pointed out the Lamb, St. Peter (June 29) has firmly established his throne, St. Paul (June 30) has prepared the Bride (the Church); their joint work, admirable in its unity, at once suggests the reasons for their feasts occurring almost simultaneously in the liturgical cycle. The alliance being now secured, all three fall into the shade; whilst the Bride Herself, raised up by them to such lofty heights, appears alone before us, holding in Her hands the sacred chalice of the nuptial feast.
This gives the key of today’s solemnity, revealing how its appearance in the heavens of the holy liturgy at this particular season is replete with mystery. The Church, it is true, has already made known to the sons of the New Covenant, in a much more solemn manner, the price of the Blood that redeemed them, its nutritive strength and the adoring homage which is Its due. On Good Friday, Earth, Heaven and Hell beheld all sin drowned in the saving stream, whose eternal flood-gates at last gave way beneath the combined effort of man’s violence and of the love of the Divine Heart. The festival of Corpus Christi witnessed our prostrate worship before the altars whereon is perpetuated the Sacrifice of Calvary, and where the outpouring of the Precious Blood affords drink to the humblest little ones, as well as to the mightiest potentates of Earth, lowly bowed in adoration before It. How is it then, that Holy Mother Church is now inviting all Christians to hail, in a particular manner, the stream of Life ever gushing from the Sacred Fount? What else can this mean, but that the preceding solemnities have by no means exhausted the mystery? The peace which this Blood has made to reign in the high places as well as in the low; the impetus of its wave bearing back the sons of Adam from the yawning gulf, purified, renewed and dazzling white in the radiance of their heavenly apparel; the sacred Table outspread before them on the waters’ brink, and the Chalice brimful of inebriation – all this preparation and display would be objectless, all these splendors would be incomprehensible, if man were not brought to see therein the wooings of a love that could never endure its advances to be outdone by the pretensions of any other. Therefore, the Most Precious Blood of Jesus is set before our eyes at this moment as the Blood of the Testament; the pledge of the alliance proposed to us by God (Heb. 9:20); the dower stipulated by eternal Wisdom for this divine union to which He is inviting all men, and its consummation in our soul which is being urged forward with such vehemence by the Holy Ghost.
“Since then, brethren, we are free to enter the Holies in virtue of the Blood of Christ,” says the Apostle, “a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil (that is, His Flesh), and since we have a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts cleansed from an evil conscience by sprinkling, and the body washed with clean water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He Who has given the promise is faithful. And let us consider how to arouse one another to charity and good works… Now may the God of peace, Who brought forth from the dead the great Pastor of the sheep, Our Lord Jesus, in virtue of the Blood of an everlasting Covenant, fit you with every good thing to do His will; working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom is glory forever and ever. Amen!” (Heb. 10:19-24; 13:20-21)
Nor must we omit to mention here, that this feast is a monument of one of the most brilliant victories of holy Church. Pope Pius IX had been driven from Rome in 1848 by the diabolically triumphant revolution; but the following year, his power was re-established. Under the aegis of the Apostles on June 28 and the two following days, the eldest daughter of the Church (France), faithful to her past glories, swept the ramparts of the eternal city; and on July 2, Mary’s festival, the victory was complete. Not long after this, a twofold decree notified to the city and to the world, the Pontiff’s gratitude and the way in which he intended to perpetuate, in the sacred liturgy, the memory of these events. On August 10, from Gaeta itself, the place of his exile in the evil days, Pope Pius IX, before returning to reassume the government of his States, addressing himself to the invisible Head of the Church, confided Her in a special manner to His Divine care, by the institution of this day’s festival; reminding Him that it was for His Church that He had vouchsafed to shed all His Precious Blood. Then, when the Pontiff re-entered His capital, turning to Mary, just as Pope St. Pius V and Pope Pius VII had done under other circumstances, the Vicar of Christ solemnly attributed the honor of the recent victory to Her who is ever the Help of Christians; for on the Feast of Her Visitation it had been gained; and he now decreed that this said Feast of July 2 should be raised to the rite of a double second class throughout the whole world. This was a prelude to the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which the immortal Pontiff had already projected, whereby the crushing of the serpent’s head would be completed.
Though this Feast passes away like all else here below, the object it celebrates remains, and is the treasure of the world. Let, then this Feast be for each one of us, as it indeed is for the Church Herself, a monument of Heaven’s sublimest favors. Each year, as it recurs in the liturgical cycle, may our hearts be found bearing new fruits of love, that have budded forth, watered by the fructifying dew of the Precious Blood. (7)
Homily of St. Augustine, Bishop
Treatise 120 on John
A suggestive word was made use of by the Evangelist, in not saying: he pierced His side; or: he wounded; or anything like that, but: he opened; that therein might, as it were, be thrown open the door of life, from which have flowed forth the sacraments of the Church, without which there is no entrance into life that is truly life. The blood that was shed, was shed for the remission of sins. That water makes up the health-giving cup; and gives at the same time a bath and a draught. This was announced beforehand, when Noe was commanded to make a door in the side of the ark, through which the animals, not destined to perish in the flood, might enter, and by which the Church was prefigured. Because of this, the first woman was made from the side of the man while he slept, and she was called Life and Mother of the living. For the name signified a great good, before the great evil of her sin. This second Adam bowed His heads fell asleep on the cross, in order that from there a spouse might be formed for Him from that which He shed from His side as He slept. O death whereby the dead are raised anew to life! What is purer than this blood? What more health-giving this wound?
Men who were held in slavery under the devil served the devil and served the demons; but they have been redeemed from captivity. For they could sell themselves, but they could not redeem themselves. The Redeemer came, and paid the price; He shed His blood, and bought the world. Do you ask what He bought? See what He gave, and you will find out what He bought. The blood of Christ is the price. What is it worth? What, but the whole world? What, but all nations. Very ungrateful for their price or very proud, are they who say that the price is of such small worth as to buy only the Africans; or that they are so great, that it was given for them alone. Therefore let them not rejoice or be proud. What He gave, He gave for the whole world.
He had His blood, by which He redeemed us; and to this end He took blood, that He might shed it in order to redeem us. If you wish it, the blood of your Lord was given for you; if you do not wish it, it was not given for you. For perhaps you will say: My God had blood, with which He redeemed me, but now since He has suffered, He has given it all; what has remained to Him, that He may also give for me? This is a great thing, because He gave once, and He gave for all. The blood of Christ is salvation to him who wishes it, punishment to him who does not wish it. Why, therefore, do you hesitate to be set free from the second death, you who do not wish to die? By this you are set free, if you are willing to take up your cross, and follow the Lord; for He took up His cross and looked for His servant. (3)
November 23 Today is the feast day of Blessed Miguel Pro. Ora pro nobis. by Peter De Trolio Photos by Michael Durnan Blessed Miguel Pro, martyred son. Priests hidden in the homes of terrified Catholics persecuted by priest hunters, informants and the law. Religious orders expelled and their houses confiscated. Churches closed or converted to … Read more
Today is the feast day of the First Martyrs of Rome. Orate pro nobis.
This feast, first mentioned in the Jerome Martyrology (6th century) was extended to the universal Church in the reform of the General Calendar in 1969. In the Tridentine Calendar there were so many feasts of Roman martyrs about whom there was little historical information that it was decided to incorporate them all under one general feast.
In July of 64 A.D., a large fire broke out in Rome, destroying nearly half of the city. The fire initially was blamed on the Emperor, who is said to have wanted to enlarge his palace. Nero quickly blamed the Christians, who he accused of “hatred of the human race”. As a result, public outcry was minimal when Nero ordered thousands to be put to death— some were covered with the skins of animals and thrown to wild dogs to be torn apart; others were crucified and at sunset were covered in oil and used as human torches to light the path of the Emperor’s chariot. Saints Peter and Paul were among those martyred. Needless to say, eventually the good people of Rome took offense to Nero’s rampant persecution of Christians, and following a revolt by the military, he took his own life in 68 A.D.
The Roman historian Tacitus tells the story of the first Martyrs of Rome:
“Yet no human effort, no princely largess nor offerings to the gods could make that infamous rumor disappear that Nero had somehow ordered the fire. Therefore, in order to abolish that rumor, Nero falsely accused and executed with the most exquisite punishments those people called Christians, who were infamous for their abominations. The originator of the name, Christ, was executed as a criminal by the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius; and though repressed, this destructive superstition erupted again, not only through Judea, which was the origin of this evil, but also through the city of Rome, to which all that is horrible and shameful floods together and is celebrated. Therefore, first those were seized who admitted their faith, and then, using the information they provided, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much for the crime of burning the city, but for hatred of the human race. And perishing they were additionally made into sports: they were killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame, and, when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps. Nero gave his own gardens for this spectacle and performed a Circus game, in the habit of a charioteer mixing with the plebs or driving about the racecourse. Even though they were clearly guilty and merited being made the most recent example of the consequences of crime, people began to pity these sufferers, because they were consumed not for the public good but on account of the fierceness of one man.” (Tacitus, Annales, 15:44)
Image: Title: Nero’s torches, artist: Henryk Siemiradski, circa 1876 (3)
Today is the feast day of the Commemoration of Saint Paul. Ora pro nobis.
“In what,” says St. Chrysostom, “in what did this blessed one gain an advantage over the other apostles? How comes it that he lives in all men’s mouths throughout the world? Is it not through the virtue of his Epistles?”
Saint Paul was originally Saul of Tarsus, born in that city of Cilicia of Jewish parents, two or three years after the Saviour was born in Bethlehem of Judea. He studied in Jerusalem at the feet of the famous teacher Gamaliel, who later would be converted and listed among the Saints.
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
Whereas the Greeks on this day are uniting in one solemnity the memory, as they express it, “of the illustrious Saints, the Twelve Apostles, worthy of all praise,” let us follow in spirit the Roman people of former times, who would gather around the Successor of St. Peter and make the splendid Basilica of the Ostian Way—St. Paul outside the Walls—re-echo with songs of victory, while he offered to the Doctor of the Gentiles the grateful homage of the city and of the world.
On the 25th of January we beheld St. Stephen leading to Christ’s Crib Saul, the once ravenous wolf of Benjamin (Gen. 49: 27), tamed at last, but who in the morning of his impetuous youth had filled the Church of God with tears and bloodshed. His evening did indeed come when, as Jacob had foreseen, Saul, the persecutor, would outstrip all his predecessors among Christ’s disciples in giving increase to the fold, and in feeding the flock with the choicest food of his heavenly doctrine.
By an unexampled privilege, Our Lord, though already seated at the right hand of His Father, vouchsafed not only to call, but personally to instruct this new disciple, so that he might one day be numbered amongst His Apostles. The ways of God can never be contradictory one to another; hence this creation of a new Apostle may not be accomplished in a manner derogatory to the divine constitution already delivered to the Christian Church by the Son of God. Therefore, as soon as the illustrious convert emerged from those sublime contemplations during which the Christian dogma had been poured into his soul, he went to Jerusalem to see St. Peter, as he himself relates to his disciples in Galatia. “It behooved him,” says Bossuet, “to collate his own Gospel with that of the Prince of the Apostles” (Sermon on Unity). From that moment, aggregated as a co-operator in the preaching of the Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles describes him at Antioch accompanied by St. Barnabas, presenting himself to the work of opening the Church to the Gentiles, the conversion of Cornelius having been already effected by St. Peter himself. He passes a whole year in this city, reaping an abundant harvest. After St. Peter’s imprisonment inJerusalem, at his subsequent departure for Rome, a warning from on high makes known to those who preside over the Church at Antioch, that the moment has come for them to impose hands on the two missionaries, and confer on them the sacred character of Ordination and Consecration.
From that hour St. Paul attains the full power of an Apostle, and it is clear that the mission for which he has been preparing is now opened. At the same time, in St. Luke’s narrative, St. Barnabas almost disappears, retaining but a very secondary position. The new Apostle has his own disciples, and he henceforth takes the lead in a long series of pilgrimages marked by as many conquests. His first is to Cyprus, where he seals an alliance with ancient Rome, analogous to that which St. Peter contracted at Caesarea.
In the year 43, when St. Paul landed in Cyprus, its proconsul was Sergius Paulus, illustrious for his ancestry, but still more so for the wisdom of his government. He wished to hear Sts. Paul and Barnabas: a miracle worked by St. Paul, under his very eyes, convinced him of the truth of his teaching; and the Christian Church counted that day among Her sons one who was heir to the proudestname among the noble families of Rome. Touching was the mutual exchange that took place on this occasion. The Roman patrician had just been freed by the Jew from the yoke of the Gentiles; in return, the Jew hitherto called Saul received and thenceforth adopted the name of Paul, as a trophy worthy of the Apostle of the Gentiles.
From Cyprus St. Paul travelled successively to Cilicia, Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia, everywhere preaching the Gospel and founding churches. He then returned to Antioch in the year 47, and found the Church there in a state of violent agitation. A party of Jews, who had been converted to Christianity from the ranks of the Pharisees, whilst consenting indeed to the admission of Gentiles into the Church, were maintaining that this could only be on condition of their being likewise subjected to Mosaic practices, such as circumcision and the distinction of forbidden foods. The Christians who had been received from among the Gentiles were disgusted at this servitude to which St. Peter had not subjected them; and the controversy became so hot that St. Paul deemed it necessary to undertake a journey to Jerusalem, where St. Peter had lately arrived, a fugitive from Rome, and where the Apostolic College was at that moment further represented by St. John, as well as by St. James, the Bishop of that city. These being assembled to deliberate on the question, it was decreed, in the name and under the influence of the Holy Ghost, that to exact any observance relative to Jewish rites should be utterly forbidden in the case of Gentile converts. It was on this occasion, too, that St. Paul received from these Pillars, as he styles them, the confirmation of his apostolate superadded to that of the Twelve, and to be specially exercised in favor of the Gentiles. By this extraordinary ministry deputed to the nations, the Christian Church definitively asserted Her independence of Judaism, and the Gentiles could now freely come flocking into Her bosom.
St. Paul then resumed his course of apostolic journeys over all the provinces he had already evangelized, in order to confirm the Churches. Thence, passing through Phrygia, he came to Macedonia, stayed a while at Athens, and then on to Corinth, where he remained a year and a half. At his departure he left in this city a flourishing Church, whereby he excited against himself the fury of the Jews. From Corinth St. Paul went to Ephesus, where he stayed two years. So great was his success with the Gentiles there, that the worship of Diana was materially weakened (and the early converts burned their evil books—Acts 19: 19); whereupon a tumult ensuing, St. Paul thought the moment had come for hisdeparture from Ephesus. During his abode there he made known to his disciples a thought that had long haunted him: “I must see Rome.” The capital of the Gentile world was indeed calling the Apostle of the Gentiles.
The rapid growth of Christianity in the capital of the empire had brought face to face, in a manner more striking than elsewhere, the two heterogeneous elements which formed the Church of that day: the unity of Faith held together in one fold those that had formerly been Jews, and those that had been pagans. It so happened that some of both of these classes, too easily forgetting the gratuity of their common vocation to the Faith, began to go so far as to despise their brethren of the opposite class, deeming them less worthy than themselves of that Baptism which had made them all equal in Christ. On the one side, certain Jews disdained the Gentiles, remembering the polytheism which had sullied their past life with all those vices which came in its train. On the other side, certain Gentiles contemned the Jews, as coming from an ungrateful and blind people, who had so abused the favors lavished upon them by God as to crucify the Messias.
In the year 53, St. Paul, already aware of these debates, profited by a second journey to Corinth to write to the faithful of the Church in Rome that famous Epistle in which he emphatically sets forth how gratuitous is the gift of Faith; and maintains how Jew and Gentile alike being quite unworthy of the divine adoption, have been called solely by an act of pure mercy. He likewise shows how Jew and Gentile, forgetting the past, have but to embrace one another in the fraternity of the same Faith, thus testifying their gratitude to God through whom both of them have been alike prevented by grace. His apostolic dignity, so fully recognized, authorized St. Paul to interfere in this matter, though touching a Christian center not founded by him.
Whilst awaiting the day when he could behold with his own eyes the Queen of all Churches, lately fixed by St. Peter on the Seven Hills of Rome, the Apostle was once again anxious to make a pilgrimage to the City of David. Jewish rage was just at that moment rampant in Jerusalem against him; national pride being more specially piqued, in that he, the former disciple of Gamaliel, the accomplice of St. Stephen’s murder, should now invite the Gentiles to be coupled with the sons of Abraham, under the one same Law of Jesus of Nazareth. The tribune Lysias was scarce able to snatch him from the hands of these blood-thirsty men, ready to tear him to pieces. The following night, Christ appeared to St. Paul, saying to him: Be constant, for as thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.
It was not however, till after two years of captivity, that St. Paul, having appealed to Caesar, landed at Italy at the beginning of the year 56. Then at last the Apostle of the Gentiles made his entry into Rome: the trappings of a victor surrounded him not; he was but a humble Jewish prisoner led to the place where all appellants to Caesar were mustered; yet was he that Jew whom Christ Himself had conquered on the way to Damascus. No longer Saul, the Benjamite, he now presented himself under the Roman name of Paul; nor was this a robbery on his part, for after St. Peter, he was to be the second glory of Rome, the second pledge of her immortality. He brought not the Primacy with him indeed, as St. Peter had done, for that had been committed by Christ to one alone; but he came to assert in the very center of the Gentile world, the divine delegation which he had received in favor of the nations, just as an affluent flows into the main stream, which mingling its waters with its own, at last empties them united into the ocean. St. Paul was to have no successor in his extraordinary mission; but the element which he had deposited in Mother Church was of such value, that in the course of ages the Roman Pontiffs, heirs to St. Peter’s monarchical power, have ever appealed to St. Paul’s memory as well; pronouncing their mandates in the united names of the “Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.”
Instead of having to await in prison the day wherein his cause was to be heard, St. Paul was at liberty to choose a lodging place in the city. He was obliged, however, to be accompanied day and night by a soldier to whom, according to the usual custom, he was chained, but only in such a way as to prevent his escape; all his movements being otherwise left perfectly free, he could easily continue to preach the word of God. Towards the close of the year 57, in virtue of his appeal to Caesar, the Apostle was at last summoned to the praetorium; and the successful pleading of his cause resulted in his acquittal.
Being now free, St. Paul revisited the East, confirming on his Evangelical course the Churches he had previously founded. Thus Ephesus and Crete once more enjoyed his presence; in the one he left his disciple St. Timothy as Bishop, and in the other St. Titus. But St. Paul had not left Rome forever; marvelously illumined as she had been by his preaching, the Roman Church was yet to be gilded by his parting rays and empurpled with his blood. A heavenly warning, as in St. Peter’s case, bade him also return to Rome where martyrdom was awaiting him. This fact is attested by St. Athanasius. We learn the same from St. Asterius of Amesius, who hereupon remarks that the Apostle entered Rome once more, “in order to teach the very masters of the world; and by their means to wrestle with the whole human race. There St. Paul found St. Peter engaged in the same work; he at once yoked himself to the same divine chariot with him, and set about instructing the children of the Law within the Synagogues, and the Gentiles outside.”
At length Rome possessed her two Princes conjointly: the one seated on the eternal chair, holding in his hands the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; the other surrounded by the sheaves he has garnered from the fields of the Gentile world. They would part no more; even in death, as the Church sings, they would not be separated. The period of their being together was necessarily short, for they must needs render to their divine Master the testimony of blood before the Roman world should be freed from the odious tyranny under which it was groaning. Their death was to be Nero’s last crime; after that he was to fade from sight, leaving the world horror-stricken at his end, as shameful as it was tragic.
It was in the year 65 that St. Paul returned to Rome; once more signalizing his presence there by the manifold works of his apostolate. From the time of his first labors there, he had made converts even in the very palace of the Caesars: being now returned to this former theater of his zeal, he again found entrance into the imperial abode. A woman who was living in criminal intercourse with Nero, as likewise a cup-bearer of his, were both caught in the apostolic net, for it was hard indeed to resist the power of that mighty word. Nero, enraged at “this foreigner’s” influence in his very household, was bent on St. Paul’s destruction. Being first of all cast into prison, his zeal cooled not, but he persisted the more in preaching Jesus Christ. The two converts of the imperial palace having abjured, together with paganism, the manner of life they had been leading, this twofold conversion of theirs only hastened St. Paul’s martyrdom. He was well aware that it would be so, as can be seen in these lines addressed to St. Timothy: “I labor even unto bonds as an evil-doer; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect. For I am even now ready to be sacrificed, like a victim already sprinkled with the lustral water, and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the Faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the Just Judge, will render to me in that day.” (2 Tim.)
On the 29th day of June, in the year 67, while St. Peter, having crossed the Tiber by the Triumphal bridge, was drawing nigh to the cross prepared for him on the Vatican plain, another martyrdom was being consummated on the left bank of the same river. St. Paul, as he was led along the Ostian Way, was also followed by a group of the faithful who mingled with the escort of the condemned. His sentence was that he should be beheaded at the Salvian Waters. A march of two miles brought the soldiers to a path leading eastwards, by which they led their prisoner to the place fixed upon for the martyrdom of this, the Doctor of the Gentiles. St. Paul fell on his knees, addressing his last prayer to God; then having bandaged his eyes, he awaited the death-stroke. A soldier brandished his sword, and the Apostle’s head, as it was severed from the trunk, made three bounds along the ground; three fountains immediately sprang up on these spots. Such is the local tradition; and to this day, three fountains are to be seen on the site of his martyrdom, over each of which an altar is raised. (1)
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
St. Paul, the great Apostle and Doctor of the Gentiles, was born a Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin. His native place was Tarsus, a celebrated city in Cilicia. His father sent him to Jerusalem, where he was educated by the famous Gamaliel, not only in the law but in all the ceremonies of the Hebrews. He soon surpassed all his schoolmates in knowledge, and became zealous in maintaining and defending the laws; and consequently, he was one of the most cruel persecutors of Christianity. It was he who kept the garments of those who stoned Stephen. The older he grew, the more deeply rooted became his hatred of the Christians. Not only at Jerusalem, but also in other places, he sought for those confessing Christ and delivered them into the hands of the authorities for imprisonment.
One day, he requested a commission from the High Priest at Jerusalem to the Jews at Damascus, by virtue of which they were to aid him in apprehending all the Christians that were residing there. With this order, he went, full of rage and hatred, to Damascus. When he was near the city, he suddenly beheld a light from heaven which shone around him. Saul, (this was his name before his conversion), fell in affright to the ground and heard a voice saying: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” “Who art thou, Lord?” asked Saul. “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest,” said the voice from heaven. Although Saul trembled at these words, he answered: “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” The Lord replied: “Arise and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Saul’s companions heard the voice, but saw no one. Saul arose from the ground, opened his eyes, but saw nothing, having lost his sight. Having been led to Damascus, he remained three days and nights in prayer, tasting neither food nor drink. Meanwhile Ananias, a disciple of the Lord, was informed in a vision of all that had taken place, and, going into the house where Saul was, he instructed him, restored his sight by laying his hands on him, and baptized him.
Soon after receiving holy baptism, Saul, now named Paul, went into the Synagogue, and preaching boldly that Christ was the true and long-promised Messiah, he proved the truth of his words so clearly that no one could gainsay them. All were amazed at the change that had taken place in him, and, not able to refute his doctrines, they consulted together to kill him. The faithful, however, let him down in a basket over the walls of the city, and thus he escaped death. After this, he went to Jerusalem and desired to join the Christians there; but as they knew nothing of his conversion, they were afraid of him and would not receive him among them. Paul finding St. Barnabas, who had been his schoolmate, related to him what had taken place, and was by him brought to the apostles, who rejoiced greatly at his conversion, and gave due thanks and praise to God.
From this time, St. Paul preached the Gospel everywhere with great ardor, journeyed through many cities, lands and kingdoms, brought many thousands to Christianity, and sent many apostolic men into different countries to convert the inhabitants. Who can give an account of his cares and labors, the disgrace arid derision, the misery and persecution which he suffered for the true Faith? He himself relates it in his Epistles, particularly in the eleventh chapter of the second Epistle to the Corinthians. The same is done by St. Luke in the Acts. Among other things, he says that a prophet had told St. Paul, when the latter was about to go from Caesarea to Jerusalem, that they would seize him at that place and deliver him to the heathens. Hence his disciples would not allow him to depart; but neither tears nor prayers could detain him. “I, am ready,” said he, “not only to be bound in Jerusalem, but also to die for the name of Jesus.”
He proved his words by deeds. When he arrived at Jerusalem, he immediately went into the temple to pray, but hardly had the Jews seen him,when they fell upon him, dragged him out of the temple and would certainly have killed him with their blows, had not the Tribune, Claudius Lysias, hastily appeared with his soldiers and released him from their fury. He, however, took him prisoner and sent him to Caesarea to the Governor Felix, who, although he found him innocent, kept him in prison. Festus, his successor, would have sent him back to Jerusalem that he might be judged there, but Paul appealed to the Emperor and was sent to Rome,where, after two years of imprisonment, he was set at liberty. The Saint then began again his apostolic labors, travelled through Italy and France, ventured even to Spain, preaching the Gospel everywhere and converting a great number of people.
At last, he returned to Rome, and among others, he exhorted some concubines of the godless Emperor Nero, to forsake their wicked life. When he had so far succeeded in converting them that, in their love of chastity, none of them would longer submit to the tyrant’s lust, the enraged Nero gave orders to imprison St. Paul as well as St. Peter. Somewhat later, both were condemned to die, Peter upon the Cross, Paul by the sword. St. Chrysostom relates that the blood that flowed from the body of St. Paul when he was beheaded, was not red, but milk-white. It is also said that his head, when severed from his body, sprang up three times from the ground, and that, each time, water gushed forth. To this day, three springs, which are shown at the place where his execution took place, confirm the tradition.
St. Paul was undoubtedly favoured with special graces and virtues. He wrought many and great miracles. By the touch of his handkerchief, the sick were immediately restored and the possessed released. He had many visions both of angels and of Christ, the Lord, Himself. Once, during a tempest on the sea, an angel appeared to him announcing that for his sake, the Almighty would spare the lives of all that were in the ship. At Corinth, our Lord appeared to him and said: “Fear not, but speak: be not silent.” At Jerusalem, He visited him again, saying: “Hasten, quickly leave Jerusalem;” and at another time the Saviour said to him: “Be constant; for, as thou hast given testimony of me at Jerusalem, so must thou do at Rome.” Besides these comforting visions, the holy Apostle had the grace to be carried up, in an ecstasy, to the third heaven, to see there such great mysteries, that he was incapable of speaking of them.
His heavenly wisdom and eloquence are clearly manifested in his epistles, the reading of which has occasioned many miraculous conversions. They also give evidence of the great virtue of this holy Apostle, especially of his fervent love to the Saviour and towards his neighbor; of the purity of his life; his humility, austere penance and invincible patience. He loved his crucified Redeemer so much, that he could write: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me. Christ is my life. I am fastened on the Cross with Christ. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? I am convinced that neither life, nor death, neither height nor depth, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God which is manifested in our Lord, Jesus Christ.” He gloried in nothing save in the Cross of the Saviour. The holy name of Jesus was constantly in his mouth and proceeded constantly from his pen.
He gave equal proofs of his love for his neighbor. The many and laborious voyages which he undertook, the many and great dangers and persecutions which he suffered, the inexpressibly great labor and care which he took upon himself, show how unselfishly he loved his neighbor. His zeal to save souls was insatiable, and his solicitude for the welfare of others, more than fatherly. He loved the newly converted like dear children and carried them all, as he said, in his heart before God. He kept his chastity inviolate, advised others to do the same, and showed, by his deeds, how we must fight against impure temptations; that is, by taking refuge with God in prayer and chastising his body with hunger and thirst, heat and cold, fasting and watching. With all his great deeds and the many graces he had received from the Almighty, he was so humble, that he more than once confessed the wickedness with which he had treated the Christians before his conversion; and though he worked more than all the others, he called himself the least of Apostles. His great love for Christ and his hope of an eternal reward cheered him, as he writes, in all that he had to suffer. On account of these and other virtues, to relate all of which would fill many books, there can be no doubt that St. Paul is raised to great glory in heaven. At the time of his death, he was 68 years old. His holy relics rest beside those of St. Peter at Rome. (4)
Image: Crop of The Apostle Paul, artist: Rembrant, circa 1657 (5)
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Today is the feast day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Orate pro nobis.
This feast day commemorates the martyrdom of the two great Apostles, assigned by tradition to the same day of June in the year 67. They had been imprisoned in the famous Mamertine Prison of Rome and both had foreseen their approaching death. Saint Peter was crucified; Saint Paul, a Roman citizen, was slain by the sword. Tomorrow the Church commemorates the Apostle of the Gentiles; today is dedicated primarily to Saint Peter.
Saint Augustine wrote of these holy men: “Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.”
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
After the great solemnities of Easter and Pentecost and the Feast of St. John the Baptist, none is more ancient, nor more universal in the Church, than that of the two Princes of the Apostles. From the beginning Rome celebrated their triumph on the day which saw them go up from earth to Heaven, June 29. Her practice prevailed, at a very early date, over the custom of several other countries, which put the Apostles’ feast toward the close of December. It was a beautiful thought which inspired the placing of these fathers of the Christian people in the cortege of Emmanuel at His entry into this world. But today’s teachings have intrinsically an important preponderance in the economy of Christian dogma; they are the completion of the whole work of the Son of God; the cross of Peter fixes the Church in Her stability, and marks out for the Divine Spirit the immutable center of His operations. Rome was well inspired when, leaving to the beloved disciple, St. John, the honor of presiding over his brethren at the crib of the Infant God, She maintained the solemn memory of the princes of the Apostles upon the day chosen by God Himself to consummate their labors and to crown both their life and the whole cycle of mysteries.
But we must not forget, on so great a day, those other messengers sent forth by the divine householder, who watered earth’s highways with their sweat and with their blood while they hastened the triumph and the gathering in of the guests invited to the marriage feast (Matt. 22: 8-10). It is due to them that the law of grace is now definitely promulgated throughout all nations, and that in every language and upon every shore the good tidings have been sounded (Ps. 18: 4, 5). Thus the festival of St. Peter, completed by the more special memory of St. Paul, his comrade in death, has been from earliest times regarded as the festival likewise of the whole apostolic college. In primitive times it seemed impossible to dream of separating from their glorious leader any of those whom Our Lord had so intimately joined together in the responsibility of one common work. In course of time, however, particular solemnities were successively consecrated to each one of the Apostles, and so the Feast of June 29 was more exclusively attributed to the two Princes whose martyrdom rendered this day illustrious. The feast of every Apostle during the year was formerly a holyday of obligation. The Holy See, in many instances having removed this precept, wished to compensate for it by ordering a commemoration to be made of all the Holy Apostles, in the Mass and Office of the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul. Eventually this commemoration was omitted. Moreover, the Roman Church, thinking it impossible fittingly to honor both of these on the same day, deferred till the morrow her more explicit praises of the Doctor of the Gentiles.
Since the terrible persecution of the year 64, Rome had become for St. Peter a sojourn fraught with peril, and he remembered how his Master had said to him, when appointing him shepherd of both lambs and sheep: “Follow thou Me” (John 16). The Apostle, therefore, awaited the day when he must mingle his blood with that of so many thousands of Christians, whom he had initiated into the Faith and whose spiritual father he truly was. But before quitting earth, St. Peter must triumph over Simon the magician, his base antagonist. This heresiarch did not content himself with seducing souls by his perverse doctrines; he sought even to mimic St. Peter in the prodigies operated by him. He proclaimed that on a certain day he would fly in the air. The report of this novelty quickly spread through Rome, and the people were full of the prospect of such a marvelous sight. The historian Dion Chrysostom states that Nero entertained the magician at his court, and moreover decided to honor the spectacle with his presence. Accordingly, the royal lodge was erected upon the via sacra. Here the attempted flight was to take place. The imposter’s pride, however, was doomed to suffer. “Scarcely had this Icarus begun to poise his flight,” says Suetonius, “than he fell close to Nero’s lodge, which was bathed in his blood” (In Neron. 12). The Samaritan juggler had set himself up, in Rome itself, as the rival of Christ’s Vicar, and writers of Christian antiquity agree in attributing his downfall to the prayers of St. Peter.
The failure of the heresiarch was in the eyes of the people a stain upon the emperor’s character, and if ill-will were united to curiosity, attention would be attracted toward St. Peter in a way that might prove disastrous. Also there was the peril of “false brethren” mentioned by St. Paul. This is a danger inevitable in a society as large as that of the Christians, where the association of widely differing characters is bound to cause friction, and discontent is aroused in the minds of the less educated on account of the choice of those placed in positions of trust or special confidence. This accounts for certain statements made by St. Clement in a letter to the Corinthians. He was an eye-witness of St. Peter’s martyrdom, and says that rivalries and jealousies contributed largely to bring about his condemnation by the authorities, whose suspicions concerning “this Jew” had been steadily increasing.
The filial devotedness of the Christians of Rome took alarm, and they implored St. Peter to elude the danger for a while by instant flight. Although he would have much preferred to suffer, says St. Ambrose (Contra Auxent.), St. Peter set out along the Appian Way. Just as he reached the Capuan gate, Christ suddenly appeared to him as if about to enter the city. “Lord, whither goest Thou (Domine, quo vadis)?” cried out the Apostle. “To Rome,” Christ replied, “there to be crucified again.” The Disciple understood his Master; he at once retraced his steps, having now no thought but to await his hour of martyrdom. This Gospel-like scene expresses the sequel of Our Lord’s designs upon the venerable old man. With a view to founding the Christian Church in unity, He had extended to his Disciple his own prophetic name of the rock or stone—Petrus; now he was about to make him His participator even unto the cross itself. Rome, having replaced Jerusalem, must likewise have her Calvary.
In his flight St. Peter dropped from his leg a bandlet, which a disciple picked up with much respect. A monument was afterwards raised on the spot where the incident occurred: it is now the Church of Ss. Nereus and Achilles, anciently called Titulus Fasciolae, the Title of the Bandlet. According to the designs of Providence, the humble Fasciola was to recall the memory of that momentous meeting at the gates of Rome, where Christ in person stood face to face with His Apostle, the visible Head of His Church, and announced that the hour of his sacrifice on the cross was at hand. (There is also a small church called “Domine quo vadis” erected near the spot where the apparition is believed to have taken place.)
From that moment St. Peter set everything in order, with a view to his approaching end. It was at this time he wrote his Second Epistle, which is his last testament and loving farewell to the Church. Therein he declares that the close of his life is near, and compares his body to a temporary shelter, a tent which one takes down to journey farther on. “The laying away of this my tabernacle is at hand, according as Our Lord Jesus Christ also hath signified to me” (2 Peter 1: 14). These words are evidently an allusion to the apparition on the Appian Way. But before quitting this world St. Peter provided for the transmission of his pastoral charge and for the needs of Holy Church, now about to be widowed of Her visible Head. To this he refers in these words: “And I will do my endeavor, that after my decease, you may also often have whereby you may keep a memory of these things” (Ibid. 15).
The best historical evidence confirms that it was into the hands of St. Linus that the keys were passed, which St. Peter had received from Christ as a sign of his dominion over the whole flock. St. Linus had been for more than ten years the auxiliary of the Holy Apostle in the midst of the Christians of Rome. The quality of Bishop of Rome entailed that of universal pastor; and St. Peter must needs leave the heritage of the divine keys to him who should next occupy the See which he held at the moment of death. So had Christ ordained; and a heavenly inspiration had led St. Peter to choose Rome for his last station, that long before had been prepared by Providence for universal empire. Hence, at the moment when the supremacy of Peter passed to one of his disciples, no astonishment was manifested in the Church. It was well known that the Primacy was and must necessarily be a local heritage, and none ignored the fact that Rome herself was that spot chosen by St. Peter long years before. Nor after Peter’s death did it ever occur to the mind of any of the Christians to seek the center of Holy Church either at Jerusalem, or at Alexandria, or at Antioch, or elsewhere.
The Christians in Rome made great account of the paternal devotedness he had lavished on their city. Hence their alarms, to which the Apostle once consented to yield. St. Peter’s Epistles, so redolent of affection, bear witness to the tenderness of soul with which he was gifted to a very high degree. He is ever the shepherd devoted to his sheep, fearing, above all else, a domineering tone; he is ever a Vicar offering himself, so that nothing may transpire save the dignity and rights of Him Whom he represents. This exquisite modesty was further increased in St. Peter, by the remembrance which haunts his whole life, as ancient writers say, of the sin he once committed, and which he continued to deplore up to the closing days of extreme old age. Faithful ever to that transcending love of which his Divine Master had required him to make a triple affirmation before confiding to him the care of His flock, he endured unflinchingly the immense labors of his office of fisher of men. One circumstance of his life, which relates to this its closing period, reveals most touchingly the devotedness wherewith he clung to Him who had vouchsafed both to call him to follow Him and to pardon his inconstancy. Clement of Alexandria has preserved the details as follows.
Before being called to the apostolate, St. Peter had lived in the conjugal state: from that time forth his wife became his “sister;” she nevertheless continued in his company, following him about from place to place, in his various journeys, in order to render him service (1 Cor. 9). She was in Rome while Nero’s persecution was raging, and the honor of martyrdom thus sought her out. St. Peter watched her as she stepped forth on her way to triumph, and at that moment his solicitude broke out in this one exclamation: “Oh, think of the Lord!” These two Galileans had seen the Lord, had received Him into their house, had made Him their guest at table. Since then the Divine Pastor had suffered on the Cross, had risen again, had ascended into Heaven, leaving the care of His flock to the fisherman of Lake Genesareth. What else, then, would St. Peter have his wife do at this moment but recall such sweet memories, and run forward to Him Whom she had known here below in His human features, and Who was now about to crown her hidden life with immortal glory!
The moment for entering into this same glory came at last for St. Peter himself. “When thou shalt be old,” his Master had mysteriously said to him, “thou shalt stretch forth thy hands and another shall bind thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldst not” (John 20). So St. Peter was to attain an advanced age; like his Master, he must stretch forth his arms upon a cross; he must know captivity and the weight of chains with which a foreigner’s hand will load him; he must be subjected to death, in its violent form, from which nature recoils, and drink the chalice from which even his Divine Master Himself prayed to be spared. But like his Master also, he will arise strong in the divine aid, and will press forward to the cross.
On the day fixed by God’s decree, pagan power gave orders for the Apostle’s arrest. Details are wanting as to the judicial procedure which followed, but the constant tradition of the Roman Church is that he was incarcerated in the Mamertine prison. By this name is known the dungeon constructed at the foot of the Capitoline hill by Ancus Martius, and afterwards completed by Servius Tullius, whence it is also called Carcer Tullianus. Two outer staircases, called “the steps of sighs,” led to the frightful den. An upper dungeon gave immediate entrance to that which was to receive the prisoner and never to deliver him up alive, unless he was destined to a public execution. To be put into this horrible place, he had to be let down by cords, through an opening above, and by the same was he finally drawn up again, whether dead or alive. The vaulting of this lower dungeon was high, and its darkness was utter and horrible, so that it was an easy task to guard a captive detained there, especially if he were laden with chains.
On the 29th of June, in the year 67, St. Peter was at length drawn up to be led to death. According to Roman law, he must first be subjected to the scourge, the usual prelude to capital punishment. An escort of soldiers conducted the Apostle to his place of martyrdom, outside the city walls, as the laws required. St. Peter was marched to execution, followed by a large number of the faithful, drawn by affection along his path, and for his sake defying every peril.
Beyond the Tiber, facing the Campus Martius, there stretches a vast plain, which is reached by the bridge named the Triumphal, whereby the city is put in communication with the Via Triumphalis and the Via Cornelia, both of which roads lead to the north. From the river-side the plain is bounded on the left by the Janiculum, and beyond that, in the background, by the Vatican hills, whose chain continues along to the right in the form of an amphitheater. Along the bank of the Tiber the land is occupied by immense gardens, which three years previously had been made by Nero the scene of the principal immolation of the Christians, just at this same season also. To the west of the Vatican plain, and beyond Nero’s gardens, was a circus of vast extent, usually called by his name, although in reality it owes its origin to Caligula, who placed in its center an obelisk which he had transported from Egypt. Outside the circus, towards its farthest end, rose a temple to Apollo, the protector of the public games. At the other end, the declivity of the Vatican hills begins, and at about the middle, facing the obelisk, was planted a turpentine tree well known to the people. The spot fixed upon for St. Peter’s execution was close to this tree. There, likewise, was his tomb already dug. No other spot in Rome could be more suitable for so august a purpose. From remotest ages, something mysterious had hovered over the Vatican. An old oak, said by the most ancient traditions to be anterior to the foundation of Rome, was there held in the greatest reverence. There was much talk of oracles heard in this place. Moreover, where could a more choice resting-place be found for this old man, who had just conquered Rome, than a mound beneath this venerated soil, opening upon the Triumphal Way and the Cornelian Way, thus uniting memories of victorious Rome and the name of the Cornelii, which had now become inseparable from that of Peter?
There is something supremely grand in the taking possession of these places by the Vicar of the Man-God. The Apostle, having reached the spot and come up to the instrument of death, implored of his executioners to set him thereon, not in the usual way, but head downwards, in order, said he, that the servant be not seen in the position once taken by the Master. His request was granted; and Christian tradition, in all ages, renders testimony to this fact which adds further evidence to the deep humility of so great an Apostle. St. Peter, with outstretched arms, prayed for the city, prayed for the whole world, while his blood flowed down upon that Roman soil, the conquest of which he had just achieved. At this moment Rome became forever the new Jerusalem. When the Apostle had gone through the whole round of his sufferings, he expired; but he was to live again in each of his successors to the end of time. (6)
St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
Although the Catholic Church celebrates the festival of St. Peter and St. Paul today, yet, as the office and Mass of tomorrow are especially appointed for the commemoration of St. Paul, we will give today to St. Peter and tomorrow to St. Paul. Peter, the prince of the Apostles, the visible head of the Christian Church, the Vicar of Christ on earth, was born at Bethsaida, a small town in Galilee, on the Sea of Genesareth. Before he became a follower of Christ, he was called Simon, and his father Jonas or John. He married Perpetua, a daughter of Aristobulus, but left her afterwards for Christ’s sake. Andrew, his elder brother, was a disciple of John the Baptist. As soon as the latter had heard, from the lips of his holy teacher, that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah, and had convinced himself of the fact by a conversation with Christ, he informed his brother Simon of it and went with him to the Saviour. Christ, looking at Simon, said: “Thou art Simon, the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas,” which means the same as Peter or a rock. After having had some discourses with Christ, Peter again went home, and announced to others the advent of the true Messiah.
Some time later, Christ walked by the Sea of Galilee and saw Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. Christ said to them: “Come ye after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him; and from that moment, Peter left the Saviour no more, but followed Him whithersoever He went. The Gospel allows us no doubt that our Lord showed on all occasions a peculiar affection for Peter. He went into Peter’s ship and out of it taught the multitudes pressing to hear Him. He took him to Mount Thabor to His transfiguration. He desired to have him near when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and also when His sufferings commenced on Mount Olivet. He promised to build His Church so strongly upon him, that not even the gates of hell should prevail against it. He said that He would give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, adding, that whatsoever Peter should bind or loose on earth, should be bound or loosed in heaven. He prayed especially for Peter, that his faith might not fail, and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren. When Peter had denied Him, He looked at him so compassionately that He moved his heart to repentance. After the Resurrection, Christ appeared to him especially and appointed him as the shepherd over His flock, made him His Vicar on earth and the visible head of His church.
We find, however, in the Gospel also, that Peter showed peculiar humility, faith and devotion towards our Lord. When he, obeying Christ’s command, let down his net into the sea and filled two boats with fishes, he deemed himself unworthy of the presence of the Lord, and falling down at His feet, he said: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” When the Saviour would wash his feet, he cried in astonishment: “Lord dost thou wash my feet? this shall never be done!” But when he heard Christ’s menace: “If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with me,” he submitted to the Saviour’s will and said: “Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” He evinced clearly his faith in Christ, when he made the magnificent confession: “Thou art Christ, the son of the living God!” His love for the Redeemer was manifested on different occasions. Several disciples of Christ left Him one day, not willing to listen further to His teachings, and Christ asked his Apostles; “Will ye also leave me?” Peter answered: “Lord, to whom should we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Love would not allow him to think of leaving.
At another time, Christ mentioned His approaching passion, and Peter, not yet comprehending the mystery of the Redemption, would prevent Him, and said: “Lord, be it far from thee: this shall not be unto thee.” He would not consent that the object of his affection should suffer. Peter’s love to Christ was the cause of his twice throwing himself into the sea to be so much sooner with Him. He would not and could not wait until the boat, in which he was with the other disciples, had landed. Out of the heart of Peter, so full of devotion to his Divine Master, came also the fearless words, that he was ready to go with Him to prison and to death, and that if all were to forsake Him, he would not leave Him. To humble his too great confidence in himself, the contrary happened; for, Peter left Christ in the garden and denied Him three times at the house of Caiphas; but no sooner did the crowing of the cock bring to his memory the prophecy of the Lord, and no sooner had the compassionate eye of the latter fallen on him, than he repented of his fault with bitter tears. There is no doubt that God pardoned him, but it is emphatically stated in the life of the holy Apostle, that he daily repented of this denial as long as he lived; and that in the night, when he heard the cock crow, he shed floods of tears at the remembrance of it.
After Christ’s resurrection, Peter was asked three times by the Saviour if he loved Him more than the others. And three times Peter answered: “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.” With this repeated confession of his love, Christ was so well pleased, that He entrusted to him all His flock with the words: “Feed my lambs: Feed my sheep.” This charge Peter began to administer soon after Christ’s ascension, when he admonished the assembled apostles and disciples to choose another apostle in the place of the traitor Judas; and also when, on Pentecost, after having received the Holy Ghost, he preached the first sermon to the Jews, with such zeal and fervency, that three thousand of them were at once converted. He was also the first who confirmed the teachings of the Gospel by miracles. The first of these he wrought on a lame beggar, who daily asked alms at the gate of the temple. Peter said to him: “Silver and gold I have none; but what I have I give thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk.” And at the same moment, the man, who had been lame from his birth, arose and walked.
This first miracle was followed by many others, and as holy Writ relates, Peter’s shadow falling upon the sick, was sufficient to restore them to health. When the High Priests of the Jews commanded Peter and the other apostles to preach no more of Christ, Peter replied: “If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye.” And again, at another time, he said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Hence he did not discontinue to announce Christ as the true Messiah, although, on account of it, he was cast into prison and scourged. He was also the first, who, following a divine inspiration, preached the Gospel to the Gentiles, as is related in the 10th Chapter of the Acts.
What more this Prince of the Apostles did to disseminate the true faith, cannot be told in a few words. He travelled through all Judaea, and preached and wrought miracles wherever he went. He restored, in one moment, the health of Aeneas, who had been suffering of the palsy for eight years, and raised Tabitha, a pious widow, to life. Later he went into several other countries, laying everywhere the first stone of Christianity, consecrated bishops and priests, who were to govern the newly founded churches. His first See he established at Antioch, and remained there seven years, but announcing also in many other places the Gospel of the Lord. He then went to Rome, where idolatry had built her principal temples. Thence he sent his disciples, who were all animated with apostolic zeal, to Spain, France, Sicily, Germany, and other countries, to preach the Christian faith.
He himself fixed his See at Rome, and by his sermons converted numberless heathens. When, nine years later, he was driven away from Rome, with many Christians, he went to Jerusalem, and visited the newly converted in those parts, comforted and cheered them, preached to those who were still in the darkness of unbelief, and then returned to Rome, where he brilliantly defeated the magician Simon. The latter had, by his magic, not only blinded the Emperor Nero, but also the Roman people, and had prevented many from embracing the true faith. Peter discovered his fraud, and to confirm the doctrines he taught, he raised a dead person to life, which Simon endeavored to do, but had not the power. After this, the magician appointed a day on which he, in evidence of the truth until now taught by him, would ascend visibly to heaven. The day came and Simon, assisted by the devil, was really raised from the ground. Peter, however, prayed, and then commanded the devil to depart and behold! the imposter fell down, broke his legs, and had to be carried away covered with grief and shame.
This splendid miracle opened the eyes of many unbelievers, who desired to be baptized. But Nero, of whom Simon was a great favorite, was enraged against St. Peter, and had him cast into a dungeon with St. Paul. The faithful, with tearful eyes, begged St. Peter to escape in order to preserve his life and take care of them. Love to his flock persuaded the holy apostle to fulfil their wish. Having already arrived at the gates of the city, he met Christ, and, amazed as this vision, he asked Him: “Master, whither goest thou?” “I go into the city to be crucified again,” replied the Lord. The apostle, comprehending these words, returned to his prison and remained there until Nero gave the order, that Peter, as a Jew, should be crucified, and Paul, as a Roman citizen, should be beheaded.
When the appointed day had arrived, Peter was scourged and then fastened to a cross. The joy which he manifested in suffering thus for his faith awakened the admiration of all present. He requested that the cross might be raised in such a manner that his head would hang down, as he deemed himself unworthy to die like his Saviour. His wish was complied with, and the Saint thus painfully ended his holy life. Marcellus, a priest, buried him upon the Vatican Hill, where his relics are still honored by the Christian world. The books of the holy Fathers are filled with praise of the deeds of this glorious Apostle, this first Pope and Vicar of Christ. (5)
Image: crop of Saint Peter and Saint Paul: Artist: El Greco (1541-1614) (13)