Glory to Jesus Christ!
Today, Saturday the 22nd, is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, first of the Apostles. To honour this day, and that the Spirit may transfigure us more quickly into Christ, I want to share three short lessons that St. Peter teaches us.
What it means to be first
‘The last shall be first, and the first last.’ St. Peter is the first among the Apostles of Jesus, the one to whom God entrusted the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. But to be first, we must place ourselves last. And St. Peter does this through service to others, both in material and spiritual needs. At the Last Supper, contrary to most imagery, the apostles and Jesus would have lain on the floor and sat up at a semicircular table. On one end, second-to-last, would have sat the host, Jesus. To his right sat the friend of the host, so St. John sat there, and thus would be able to lean his head back and rest on Jesus’ chest, as the Gospel according to St. John recounts. To the left of the host sat the guest of honour, likely Judas (able to dip his morsel into Jesus’ cup). But, as St. John recounts that Peter was able to communicate with John, it is most likely that Peter was in the one place from which he could easily get up and speak to people he was not next to: That is the seat at the other end of the semicircle, the place of the one who would serve the others, being able to get up easily to get food and drink. Christ’s chief vicar, that is His substitute and representative, would serve his brothers and his Lord as the least one of them. In the same way, we who represent Christ as His apostles are bound by the love we have received to in turn serve others in the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, and burying the dead. But this goes not only to the poor and the stranger, but to our families, our friends. We must spend time in good conversation, share good meals together, laugh and enjoy one another, and share hardships as well. These are also special times to serve others in Christ’s place.
What it means to be holy
But the spiritual works of mercy are more important than the corporal works of mercy, because the spirit is greater than the body which returns to dust. These include instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, forgiving, and patiently forbearing. Jesus told Peter: ‘But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.’ (Luke 22:32) Peter as first of Christ’s Apostles would be required to be the first to turn from sin after having failed in virtue and love, and then minister to the other apostles and strengthen them. St. Peter shows the process of conversion, which is not something that happens only once. We may fail over and over again, but being perfect has nothing to do with how many mistakes we have made or how capable we are in any way. It is to be filled with the Father’s love, which is the Blood and Water that pour from Jesus’ Sacred Heart, to be nourished and strengthened by His Spirit and His Body given at the Cross for us. ‘For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.’ (Romans 3:24-26) St. Peter’s life displays the life of the Christian, and therefore the life of Christ: To be filled with the Father’s Spirit who makes us perfect, who makes us His children, letting our weakness, misery, and wretchedness be filled with Love.
This Divine Mercy transfigures us into Christ, so that we die to ourselves and become who we are meant to be in the Truth: ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.’ (Galatians 2:20) The natural—for Christ assumed human nature and perfected human nature, bestowing it on the baptised—the natural response is then to love others. We show this in friendship, for charity is friendship. We strengthen and encourage other Christians, our family, and our friends. We evangelise primarily by getting to know others, investing time (that is, life) in them, and inviting them into a life of prayer and union with God. This was Jesus’ last commandment to St. Peter and all the Apostles while He was on earth. So St. Peter wrote, ‘But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.’ (1 Peter 4:7-11)
What it means to die
Death is unnatural. It is the parting of the body and the spirit, which God never intended in His original ordering of creation. But Christ trampled down death by death, so that what was our punishment would become the means of our salvation by Him who works together all things for good for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). And St. Paul wrote that in our Baptism we are buried with Christ into death, that we might rise with Him and live with Him, free from the bondage to sin. This is the joy of our lives, because Jesus’ Death, Resurrection, and Ascension into Heaven become part of our lives—of all our weaknesses, desires, successes, failures. Peter’s death to self in making himself the least of his brethren, in his humiliations from Jesus’ rebukes and from his own failures on the sea, in the Garden, and throughout his life—all these became imbued with Jesus’ humiliation, suffering, agony, abandonment, and ultimately His Death and Resurrection. By uniting ourselves—especially whatever we do not want, did not choose, cannot control, do not understand—to Jesus’ Cross, we receive His love poured out for poor sinners, and we are raised up to become part of His mission to save souls. ‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.’ (Colossians 1:24) This is the great co-mission, for ‘we are God’s coworkers’, and in receiving His Body and Blood given and shed for us, we share in His work of love to save souls. We do not have to like our crosses, but we take them up cheerfully, as St. Peter wrote: ‘Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.’ (1 Pet. 4:12-13)
But if to truly live means to die with Christ, then death itself becomes gain, becomes the means by which we enter into the fullness of union and friendship with God. St. Peter shows this in his own death, martyred for the sake of Jesus’ Name. According to tradition he was crucified upside down, so that even in his last moment he would seek not his own glory but the glory of Jesus’ Cross by which he himself was saved. He sought to magnify, honour, and love God not only in his life, but especially in his death. St. Therese of Liseux and St. Faustina each wrote that their missions would not end at their deaths, but would begin. They and St. Peter show that true happiness and fulfillment come only from God and are found with Him. They looked past the temporary trials of their brief lives and expected the great reward for which they longed: friendship and union with God and with others. With the end in mind, the Christian has hope, the anchor for his soul. For the end is not death. Jesus is the beginning and the end. When we orient our entire life, from everyday chores and menial tasks to our vocation and greatest desires, to knowing and loving God who knows us perfectly and loves us completely—then our life becomes meaningful, our death becomes victory, and perfect fulfillment and infinite happiness with God forever becomes our expectation and destiny.
St. Peter, pray for us!
‘Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ ~2 Peter 1:2-11