In the readings for today, Acts 12:1-11 describes Peter’s rescue from Herod’s prison by an angel of the Lord. The Responsorial stresses the rescuing power of the angel of the Lord. In the second reading, Paul praises the Lord for past and future rescues, and in the Gospel, Jesus proclaims that Peter will build the Church. The themes of God’s rescuing power and of Peter’s faith are strongly presented.
On April 02, 2005, roughly six hours before Pope John Paul II died, I traveled beneath Saint Peter’s in Rome to view La Scavi, the underground archeological excavations where Peter’s grave has been found. It was an unforgettable experience walking the roadways of the Roman cemetery upon which Saint Peter’s is built. But, during the latter portion of the tour, we heard about the search for Peter’s grave, and we were finally taken to a place where we could bend down to look through a small hole at a marble sarcophagus that contains, what the Church believes to be, the remains of Peter.
What a wonderful and challenging life Peter lead. Chosen as a disciple, Peter got to experience daily life with Jesus. He was both praised and scolded by Jesus. He was told that he was to build the Church by Jesus, and he was rescued by an angel of the Lord just before he was to be killed. At each turn in his life, his faith was reinforced, and in the end, he had such respect for Jesus that he was crucified upside down, rather than die the same way as Jesus.
What of Peter’s life can we apply to our own? Peter was called to be a disciple, as are we, and he worked diligently to fulfill the responsibilities and opportunities that were given to him. His life was not easy, and he suffered far more than we are likely to suffer. Through it all, through successes and times of doubt and denial, he moved forward to fulfill what was expected of him. The angel of the Lord rescued him from prison, but he was not spared crucifixion. No doubt through the agony of those final hours, he was sustained by his faith and by the thought of reunion with Jesus after his death. We will suffer during our lives, and we will doubt and deny. That is human. The lesson from Peter is a lesson about the presence of the Lord as a comforter, no matter how difficult we may believe our circumstance is. Peter represents a person, like us, who was given countless reasons to believe. He observed these, and they sustained his faith. In the wonder and miracles of our daily lives we, too, are given countless reminders of the goodness of God, and if we are open to these, they are constant reinforcers of His blessings on us and of His constant presence in our lives.
I was told that the sarcophagus of Peter contains his bones, and these are wrapped in purple cloth. After nearly 2000 years, they are a humble reminder of a wonderful and profound example of faith and dedication.
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