Rev. Mr. Roger J. Landry
Domus Sanctae Mariae Guadalupensis, Rome
Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter
May 22, 1999
Acts 28:16-20,30-31; Jn 21:20-25
In today’s liturgy, the last of the Easter season, the season of the great news of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the triumph over death and sin, the Church gives us two readings which bring to a close not only John’s Good News, not only the Acts of the Apostles, but the stories of SS. Peter and Paul. The Church invites us to meditate upon these endings, as we prepare for a new beginning tomorrow on Pentecost.
We can start with Peter in the Gospel. Our Lord was very simple with Peter, who sometimes was as dense as a rock. He had one simple message, one straightforward vocation, for Peter: “Your business is to follow me.” Follow me! How many times Jesus must have said this to Peter! The evangelists record it being said 21 times in the Gospels. We can recall a few of the more important ones. First at the seashore of Galilee: “Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men.” Then to Peter and others a few miles from the Sea: “Follow me and let the dead bury their dead.” Again: “Take up your cross and follow me.” In the Upper Room: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am my servant will be.” Then, right before today’s passage in John’s Gospel, after Jesus had asked Peter three times if he loved him, he told Peter: “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (indicating the kind of death [John tells us] by which he would glorify God.) After this Jesus said to him [again], “Follow me.”
And Peter followed. He followed the Lord until the Way led him to … Rome. Here in Rome he continued in the Lord’s footsteps until his own feet were bloodied and hammered to the top of a two-by-four in Nero’s circus. This 60-something year old man — of retirement age by today’s standards — was still following the Lord, while he stretched out his hands as they were tied by a belt to his definitive papal cathedra, on which he gave his finest and most glorious testimony of all.
Meanwhile, the Doctor of the Gentiles, the one whom the Lord had filled with an eagerness from his earliest days as a Christian to preach the Gospel here in Rome, was on the via Nomentana welcoming all who came to him and “with full confidence preaching the reign of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus.” He had followed the Lord and the Lord’s inspiration all the way to this city as well. Rome was where Paul was ultimately poured out as a libation. Rome was where he wrote his extraordinarily moving, triumphal words to his spiritual son Timothy: “I have fought the good fight. I have the finished the race. I have kept the faith.” Rome was Paul’s finish line! And his race went down to the wire; just like a sprinter, Paul won that race by a head — his own, gloriously cut off for the faith in a forest just south of the ancient city.
But there’s more. Several years ago, Our Lord was in, of all places, California, Michigan, Iowa, Connecticut and even Massachusetts and said, “Follow me!” And each of us did. We picked up whatever crosses he gave us and began that journey, a journey which has led each of us — whether we eagerly wanted to come, like Paul, or were taken to a place we did not wish to go, like Peter — here to Rome, here to the city of the living Peter and the living Doctor of the Gentiles. It is here that the Evangelists in heaven are continuing to compile “the many other things” that Jesus has done in each of us, which, if they were written about in detail, could not be contained no matter how big the earthly library. These are the details we hope to spend an eternity reading about in the Biblioteca del Cielo. My sisters and brother, let us thank God today for the unbelievable grace of being able to follow in his greatest apostles’ footsteps here to this great saint-making city fertilized by their blood.
Rome is our Upper Room. It is here that the Lord has gathered us around his apostles and his mother awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, tomorrow, when we celebrate the birthday of the Church. The Holy Spirit wants to fill us with himself and make us witnesses in life and in death to the greatest news ever told. He wants us to be part of the new Pentecost. He wants to inspire a new Acts of the Apostles, with each of us, whether silently or publicly, playing a starring role. There’s no better place to start than in this Upper Room here in Rome. The original Cenacle, where the apostles and Mary gathered in the first novena, had been used, 53 days earlier, as the site of the beginning of the greatest event in human history which is about to be re-presented here. That Paschal mystery which began in the Upper Room culminated on Calvary when Jesus bowed his head and gave up his spirit. That same Spirit wants to come to us in a special way tomorrow and fill us with gifts just as he filled the first apostles. Let us then turn to the Holy Spirit, present at our baptism, present at our confirmation, present at our ordination or profession and present at every Mass, and beg:
Come, O Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of us your faithful. Set us on fire with the flames of your Love. Come forth and we shall be recreated, and through us renew the face of the earth!