God Needed Heroes – But Was This What He Meant?

Sts. Peter and Paul fell short, but so do we.

El Greco, “Saint Peter and Saint Paul,” c. 1595
El Greco, “Saint Peter and Saint Paul,” c. 1595 (photo: Public Domain)

There is an old adage: “God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called.”

And if you’re looking for a man who proved that by his life, the apostle Peter is your guy. Peter, you’ll recall, denied Christ three times in the courtyard on Holy Thursday night. Peter had seen his Master beaten and condemned to death, and he feared the Romans and the Jews who had treated Jesus so cruelly.

Poor, bedraggled Peter – fearing for his life, he had three times denied knowing Jesus. He skulked back after the Crucifixion, hiding in the Upper Room, afraid after seeing how they’d brutalized and murdered Jesus.

But then came Pentecost, and the Paraclete burst forth in a Wind of Grace and a Fire of Truth, reached down and touched Peter’s heart, touched his lips, touched his soul, filling him to overflowing with grace and courage and fortitude…. Peter, emboldened, stepped onto the balcony and spoke to the crowds, preaching and teaching. When they tried to stop him from speaking about the truth of Christ, his beloved Savior, Peter would not be silenced. A burly, powerful leader, he went forth and continued to preach, facing hardships, traveling through Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth and eventually Rome, converting thousands.

Even under penalty of death, Peter could not deny the Master who had shown Himself to be the Christ, the Messiah. Peter suffered a martyr’s death, being crucified upside down since he claimed he was not worthy to die in the same way as Jesus.

Indeed, Peter had become one of the most powerful figures in the history of Christendom.

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Also powerful in the history of the Church was Paul, the “apostle to the Gentiles.” Paul wasn’t one of the original Twelve, but he was instrumental in the spread of Christianity through Asia Minor and all the way to Rome.

In fact Paul, a Roman citizen, had once been relentless in his persecution of the early Christians. But that was before the Spirit knocked him off his horse on the road to Damascus, blinding him to all but the truth of Christ.

Once the scales had been removed from his eyes and he recognized Jesus as the Redeemer, Paul became a vigorous teacher and preacher, embarking on a journey through Asia Minor, all the way to Rome. He traveled through Antioch, Cyprus, Phrygia, Galatia, and Philippi, through Thessalonica and Corinth and beyond, establishing churches and preaching the Gospel along the way. He willingly suffered imprisonment, shipwreck and eventual martyrdom for the fledgling church, never wavering in his commitment to Christ Jesus.

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So it is that St. Peter and St. Paul – compatriots, converts, contemporaries – together helped to spread the Gospel to foreign lands, inspiring by their very lives and, in that way, building Christ’s Church.  The two of them – while they didn’t actually work side by side as a team – together helped to expand and instruct the young church, converting thousands, until today there are 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide (2.2 billion adherents, when one considers all the denominations which consider themselves “Christian”).

It was Oscar Wilde who wrote, “Every saint has a past; and every sinner has a future.” Peter and Paul, true heroes of the faith, were sinners who became great saints. We can do it, too!

St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us.