Mercy in the Life and Work of SS. Peter and Paul, SS. Peter & Paul, June 29, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul
June 29, 2016
Acts 12:1-11, Ps 34, 2 Tim 4:6-8.17-18, Mt 16:13-19


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • This year’s celebration of the Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul is unique in the history of the Church because it’s occurring during the first extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which gives us an opportunity to examine the lives of the Rock on whom Christ has built his Church and the Teacher of the Nations from within the prism of mercy they received, shared and proclaimed. Seeing the mystery of mystery as it developed in their lives can help us all to see better how it is meant to influence our own lives.
  • St. Peter’s first words to the Lord, after the miracle of the biggest and most surprising catch of his life, were “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). But Jesus told him not to be afraid, for from that point forward, he would be fishing for me — and fishing with the same “bait” of the mercy of God that had captured him. His three years with Jesus were a seminary of training in mercy. He witnessed Jesus’ gut-exploding (splangchnizomai) mercy that led him to teach, heal, feed, forgive, and call and commission others to continue his merciful mission. I would like to focus in particular just on mercy understood as forgiveness received, given and announced. It was St. Peter who asked Jesus how often he needed to forgive, receiving Jesus’ answer “Seven sevens,” meaning that if God has forgiven us ten-thousand talents (60 million days wages), we should readily forgive others their much smaller, 100 day wage debts. Peter was present during the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus called us to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. He heard Jesus give the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Lost Son. He was present when Jesus forgave the paralyzed man (very likely in Peter’s own house!), the sinful woman in Simon the Pharisee’s house, St. Matthew the Tax-collector, the woman caught in adultery, the lame man in the pool of Bethesda and more. He was given by Christ in today’s Gospel the keys to bind and loose in heaven and on earth, keys that Jesus linked explicitly to forgiveness when he gave the same power and command to the apostles later in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 18:18). After his three-fold denial of Christ because his flesh was weak despite his willing spirit, he was restored by Christ’s mercy first by Christ’s look in the High Priest’s courtyard that led him to weep and then by Christ’s invitation to reaffirm his love for Christ after the Resurrection. Finally, St. Peter was present on Easter Sunday evening when Christ entered through the closed doors of the Upper Room, breathed on Peter and the apostles the power of the Holy Spirit, and told them that just as God the Father had sent Him as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world, so he was sending them with the Holy Spirit’s power to forgive and retain sins in God’s name.
  • After Christ’s Ascension, St. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, went out with the power of the keys and began to try to bring Christ’s mercy to others. On Pentecost Sunday, wasting now time, he preached to the multitudes, saying, ““Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38), and 3,000 heard and acted. He would summarize in his first Letter the real essence of his message of how God has blessed us with his mercy when he declared, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). He would continue to preach that message with his words, letters, and body language until the Lord Jesus’ prophecy at the end of St. John’s Gospel came true, as he followed Christ all the way through death by Crucifixion to the glory to which God’s mercy leads us. He was a fisher of men through mercy until the end.
  • St. Paul’s story is just as poignant a witness of the mercy of the Lord. We know that his conversion, by the mercy of the Lord, was not from a godless life to a good one, but from a false notion of a holy life to a true one. Prior to his conversion, he sought holiness through his own actions, through his works of the law, and even through his seeking to annihilate what he deemed a blasphemous Jewish sect called Christians. After his conversion, he realized he was saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus and that grace was God’s mercy. His conversion was a direct result of a prayer for mercy, when, as he was presiding over the execution by stoning of St. Stephen, the deacon cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!,” evoking Christ’s own prayer of mercy from the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” God heard that prayer and offered Saul of Tarsus the gift of conversion on the road to Damascus, when Jesus spoke to him and asked why Saul was persecuting him, only to have Saul desist on the spot and ask what he needed to do. But Saul never forgot his persecution. To the Galatians he wrote, saying about his conversion, “You heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Gal 1:13), and to the Philippians, “In zeal I persecuted the church” (Phil 3:6). But his most extensive admission and confession as to how having been forgiven motivated him to work all the harder, he divulged in his letter to the Christians in Corinth, “Last of all, as to one born abnormally [literally born dead, like an abortion], he appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God [God’s mercy] I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me” (1 Cor 15:8). Because of that, he began to preach and teach about God’s mercy and call others to receive it, share it, and preach it too.
  • He helped everyone to see that we, in one way or another, are similar to him in being sinners in need of God’s mercy. He wrote to the Ephesians, “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us,even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ” (Eph 2:4). He marveled that proved “his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8), saying this was the essence of his plan for the Gentiles and the Jews, with each helping each other recognize their need for God’s mercy and come to receive it: “Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may [now] receive mercy. For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:30-32). He grasped that his whole ministry was given “through the mercy shown us” (2 Cor 4:1) and for that reason he sought to become the herald of that mercy, as we hear each Ash Wednesday: “All this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor 5:18-20). That led him to proclaim always that we should be “kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ” (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13). He was the doctor of the gentiles in precisely teaching them about God’s mercy and how they’re supposed to allow it totally to transform their life.
  • The successor of St. Peter and St. Paul, the living Rock on whom Christ continues to build his Church and the living Teacher of the Nations, is urging us this year to heed their words and the message of their lives and to imitate their passion and mission to become fishers of men with Go’s mercy. Pope Francis is calling each of us never to tire of asking for God’s mercy because we never cease to need it and God never tires of giving it. He has emphasized, with Pope Benedict his predecessor — whose 65th anniversary of priestly ordination we celebrate today — that the name of God is mercy and that mercy is the “essence of the Gospel, all of Christianity is here.” And he’s trying to help us all learn how to become “ministers of mercy above all.”
  • The way the dramatic transformation by God’s mercy is meant to be daily renewed, a metamorphosis similar to what happened to St. Peter on the shore of Galilee and St. Paul on the road to Damascus, is here at the Mass, when we participate in time in what St. Peter shared in with Christ in the Upper Room and St. Paul celebrated with so many of the first Churches to which he wrote his famous letters: this gift of Jesus’ body and blood given Sacramentally in the Last Supper and then on the Cross “for the remission of sins.” This is what urges us to “do this in memory of him,” and offer our lives in continuation of Christ’s mission to reconcile all things to the Father. Through the intercession of SS. Peter and Paul, we pray that we might be so changed by the Christ we encounter as they were when they met him, that we might be thoroughly renewed as to live and spread God’s mercy as faithfully in our day as they did in theirs. SS. Peter and Paul, pray for us!


The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 Acts 12:1-11

In those days, King Herod laid hands upon some members of the Church to harm them.
He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword,
and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews
he proceeded to arrest Peter also.
–It was the feast of Unleavened Bread.–
He had him taken into custody and put in prison
under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each.
He intended to bring him before the people after Passover.
Peter thus was being kept in prison,
but prayer by the Church was fervently being made
to God on his behalf.On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial,
Peter, secured by double chains,
was sleeping between two soldiers,
while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison.
Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him
and a light shone in the cell.
He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying,
“Get up quickly.”
The chains fell from his wrists.
The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.”
He did so.
Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.”
So he followed him out,
not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real;
he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first guard, then the second,
and came to the iron gate leading out to the city,
which opened for them by itself.
They emerged and made their way down an alley,
and suddenly the angel left him.
Then Peter recovered his senses and said,
“Now I know for certain
that the Lord sent his angel
and rescued me from the hand of Herod
and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. (5) The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
R. The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.
Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
R. The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
R. The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the man who takes refuge in him.
R. The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.

Reading 2 2 Tm 4:6-8, 17-18

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well; I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith.
From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me,
which the Lord, the just judge,
will award to me on that day, and not only to me,
but to all who have longed for his appearance.
The Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me the proclamation might be completed
and all the Gentiles might hear it.
And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat
and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom.
To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Alleluia Mt 16:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 16:13-19

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”