Sunday, June 29, is the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, apostles.
Acts 12:1-11; Psalm 34:2-9; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19
The feast day of Peter and Paul is a good day to pray for the mission of Pope Francis, who is continuing the work of both.
Sts. Peter and Paul share a feast in June because they were both martyred in Rome. But they have also come to represent two aspects of the Church’s leadership.
St. Peter represents the institutional Church — the Church that sets rules, governs its dioceses and attends to the doctrines and norms of the Church.
St. Paul is the prime example of the missionary Church — the Church that goes out and adapts itself to different cultures, proclaiming the Good News.
Of course, St. Peter also goes out, as the first reading about his imprisonment demonstrates. And of course St. Paul also sets rules for the Church. The second reading at most Masses is an example of his governance of the local Church in Corinth, Rome, Ephesus and the rest, through letters.
Nonetheless, theologians such as Hans Urs von Balthasar see a significant difference in the Petrine and Pauline offices of the Church. Peter, in this Sunday’s Gospel, receives “the keys to heaven and earth,” and is told, “What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” Peter is the Churchman par excellence. Paul, the tireless traveler who said, “Woe to me if I do not evangelize,” is the quintessential missionary.
Like Peter and Paul, the modern papacy also encompasses both missionary zeal and institutional duties.
Think of St. John Paul II, who is remembered for traveling the world to preach Christ — but he also guided the Church through synods that set the course for decades to come. Or think of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who focused on liturgy and choosing bishops, but also traveled the world, from Africa to the Americas.
It was on a trip to South Africa, exercising his Petrine office, that Benedict inspired an Argentinian cardinal — Jorge Bergoglio — to show his own brilliance for Church governance. The Latin-American bishops produced the “Aparecida Document” under Cardinal Bergoglio’s leadership, a document that writers such as papal biographer George Weigel praised as a great sign of hope for the Latin-American Church.
Later, he would become Pope Francis and produce a similar document for the universal Church: the 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).
Evangelii Gaudium is both practical and missionary: In it, Pope Francis combines frank advice for flailing parishes and dioceses with rousing calls to evangelize.
He defines the parish in a Petrine way: “The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.”
He gives a Pauline purpose to the Mass: “The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.”
He is very practical, providing a section called simply “The Homily” and another called “Preparing to Preach.” He is also inspirational, providing mission statements for Catholic elementary schools and universities and giving a list of “Reasons for a Renewed Missionary Impulse.”
Pope Francis is not perfect. Neither were Peter and Paul. That is the point: In their ministry, we see God guiding his Church with a sure hand through weak instruments.
Sts. Peter and Paul, pray for us — and pray for your brother, Pope Francis.
Tom and April Hoopes write from
Atchison, Kansas, where Tom is
writer in residence at