Peter, the first pope, was a fisherman from Galilee. Jesus invited him to follow him, saying: “I will make you a fisher of men.” Peter was a simple, hard-working man. He was generous, honest and very attached to Jesus.
This great apostle’s 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 chief or prince of the apostles.
When Jesus was arrested, Peter became afraid. It was then that he committed the sin of denying Our Lord three times. Fear for his safety got the best of him. But Peter repented totally. He wept over his denials for the rest of his life. Jesus forgave Peter. After his resurrection he asked Peter three times: “Do you love me?” “Lord,” Peter answered, “you know all things. You know that I love you.” Jesus truly did know! Peter was so right. Jesus said kindly: “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.” He was telling Peter to take care of his Church because he would be ascending into heaven. Jesus left Peter as the leader of his followers.
Peter eventually went to Rome to live. Rome was the center of the whole Roman Empire. Peter converted many nonbelievers there. When the fierce persecution of Christians began, they begged Peter to leave Rome and save himself. It is said that he actually started out. On the road he met Jesus. Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “I am coming to be crucified a second time.” Then St. 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 crucified in the same manner.
St. Peter was martyred on Vatican Hill. It was around the year 67. Emperor Constantine built a large church over that sacred location in the fourth century. Recent archaeological findings confirm these facts.
Paul is the great apostle who first persecuted the Christians. Then he was converted. We celebrate Paul’s conversion on January 25. At the time of his conversion, Jesus had said: “I will show him how much he must suffer for me.” St. Paul loved Jesus very much, so much, in fact, that he became a living copy of our Savior. All his life, during his many missionary trips, St. 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.
Yet he always trusted in God. 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 his marvelous adventures for Christ in 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. He preached the Gospel to the non-Jews. That took him to the whole known world. Because of Paul, we, too, have received the Christian faith.
Have you courageously fought the good fight, finished the race and keep the faith that the Lord has entrusted to you before the foundation of the world?
Grant, we pray, O Lord our God, that we may be sustained by the intercession of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, that, as through them you gave your Church the foundations of her heavenly office, so through them you may help her to eternal salvation. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.