|Solemnity of Sts. Peter and
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
Today, celebrating the lives of two of the most important saints in Christianity, our Scriptural readings deal with the themes of FEAR and RESCUE. The Psalm has a line that is somewhat ambiguous in English: "The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him." I think we all read this as meaning not fear of the angel, but rather fear of the Lord. Fear is usually seen as a negative emotion, something to be overcome with more knowledge and preparation (although we also enjoy some fear, as when watching suspenseful movies or boarding amusement park rides). Usually we fight fear as a paralyzing reaction. Yet from early tradition, the Christian Church has called Fear of the Lord one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, taking the list of Gifts from Isaiah (11) where the prophet even says, "His delight shall be in fear of the Lord."
To fear God here is not to lose sight of God's infinite love and mercy, but rather to feel how awesome is that love and mercy, to know truly that God can rescue us. We're do-it-yourselfers, and when we can't save ourselves, we may despair; the fear of the Lord is a gift along with wisdom and understanding and others, and all together they promise that God will rescue us.
Today's readings have wonderful images of the perils from which each of us prays for rescue, for our individual selves and for all the people of the world. To celebrate St. Peter's feast, we have the narrative from Acts in which Peter is rescued from chains and prison. To celebrate St. Paul's day, we have the second reading, from the letter to Timothy, in which Paul says that he is rescued from the lion's mouth. Chains, prison, and a lion's mouth -- for us, these can be images of our human hatreds and prejudices and addictions, errors, follies and paralyzing fears.
Then the Gospel from Matthew is again about Peter: Peter recognizes Jesus as his Lord and Savior and proclaims his faith. Jesus replies by recognizing Peter, making him the Rock of His Church and giving him (another image here!) the Keys of the Kingdom and the power to bind and loose. This passage is cited by Roman Catholics as the time when Jesus initiated the papacy and instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation, called Penance in my youth, and thought of as simply "going to confession." Now THAT involved Fear indeed for a child -- not only fear of God's just punishments, but also sheer performance anxiety: would I remember what to say? -- leading to rote recitations of sins: "I fought with my brothers and sisters five times; I neglected my prayers five times" (or would you believe twenty?)
A true Fear of the Lord (and the other Gifts of the Spirit) may bring
us back to what Jesus is truly giving us. Reconciliation is, of course,
Rescue from sin, from our chains and prisons and the real mouth of the
lion. And of course Peter was freed from prison so that he could
do the Lord's work. Like Paul, he was "poured out like a libation"
and gained "the crown of righteousness." We can contemplate how we
are forgiven and rescued just so we can go forth and try to do likewise.
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