Peter, the first bishop of Rome (we now call the bishop of Rome the pope), was a fisherman from Bethsaida. Jesus invited him to follow him, saying: “I will make you a fisher of people.” Peter was a simple, hard-working man. He was generous, honest and very attached to Jesus.
This great apostle’s original name was Simon, but Jesus changed it to Peter, which means “rock.” “You are Peter,” Jesus said, “and on this rock I will build my Church.” Peter was the leader of the apostles.
When Jesus was arrested, Peter became afraid. That’s when he denied that he knew Jesus three times. But Peter was very sorry for what he had done, and Jesus forgave him. After his resurrection Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” “Lord,” Peter answered, “you know all things. You know that I love you.” Peter was right. Jesus really did know! Jesus said kindly, “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.” Jesus was telling Peter to take care of his Church because he would be ascending into heaven. Jesus made Peter the leader of his followers.
Peter eventually went to live in Rome. Rome was the center of the whole world at that time. Peter converted many nonbelievers there. When the fierce persecution of Christians began, they begged Peter to leave Rome and save himself. There is a tradition that says Peter actually started to run away. But he met Jesus on the road. “Lord, where are you going?” Peter asked him. Jesus answered, “I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time.” Then Peter turned around and went back. He realized that this vision meant that he was to suffer and die for Jesus. Soon after, he was taken prisoner and condemned to death. Because he was not a Roman citizen, he, like Jesus, could be crucified. This time he did not deny the Lord. This time he was ready to die for him. Peter asked to be crucified with his head downward since he was not worthy to suffer as Jesus had. The Roman soldiers did not find this unusual because slaves were frequently crucified in the same manner.
St. Peter was martyred and buried on Vatican Hill. It was around the year 67. Emperor Constantine built a large church over that holy spot in the fourth century. Today the beautiful church called St. Peter’s Basilica stands there.
St. Peter has another feast that we celebrate. It is on February 22 and is called the Chair of St. Peter.
St Paul – Saul was Jewish, but because he was born in Tarsus, he was also a Roman citizen, with the Roman name “Paul.” He studied his Jewish faith carefully and was very dedicated to it. Saul made his living as a tentmaker.
Before Saul’s conversion, he thought he was pleasing God by persecuting the Christians. At the time of his conversion, Jesus had said: “I will show him how much he must suffer for me.” After Jesus appeared to Saul, Saul began to use his Roman name Paul. Paul loved Jesus very much, so much, in fact, that he tried to imitate him in every way. All his life, during his many missionary trips, Paul met troubles and went through dangers of every kind. He was whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, and lost at sea. Many, many times he was hungry, thirsty and cold. But Paul always trusted in God. And he never stopped preaching. “The love of Jesus presses me onward,” he said. In reward, God gave him great comfort and joy in spite of every suffering.
We read about St. Paul’s marvelous adventures for Jesus in St. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, beginning with chapter nine. But St. Luke’s story ends when Paul arrives in Rome. He is under house arrest, waiting to be tried by Emperor Nero. A famous early Christian writer, Tertullian, tells us that Paul was freed after his first trial. But then he was put in prison again. This time he was sentenced to death. He died around the year 67, during Nero’s terrible persecution of the Christians.
Paul called himself the apostle of the Gentiles because he preached the Gospel to the people who weren’t Jewish. That took him across the then-known world. Because of Paul, we too, have received the Christian faith. In the New Testament, we can read many of the letters which he wrote to the churches which he helped form. In these letters, St. Paul gives helpful advice on living the Christian life.
We celebrate another feast of St. Paul, the feast of his conversion, on January 25.