I’m not sure how old I was. I think I was pre-teen – 9 or 10. Suffice it to say I was a dumb kid, regardless of how old I was. Anyway, I got it into my head to put a giant magnet on my father’s large television screen, to see what it would do. As it turns out, the answer is, roughly, “destroy the television.” My dad was, understandably, as angry as I’d ever seen him that day. I didn’t know at the time if he would ever forgive me.
How much does someone have to mess up in the eyes of God before it becomes too late to turn back? Today is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, and the lives of those two saints provide textbook examples of how far astray one can get and still become a saint.
Before he became a Christian, Paul was Saul, who was dedicated to the persecution of early Christians. Then he had a visitation from Jesus (who had resurrected and ascended by that point): “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) Saul was blinded by the encounter, converted, and was healed, becoming one of the most important figures of the early Church as he spread the word to Jewish and Roman communities.
Peter was much closer to Christ throughout the early part of his life, but he, too, turned away from God in one of the most famous aspects of the Easter story, when he denied Jesus three times. Yet Peter ultimately found his voice and his future, becoming the Church’s first pope and the “rock” upon which the Church was built. As today’s Gospel selection from Matthew quotes Jesus: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
In fact, the flow of Peter’s life story is interesting. As quoted above, Peter was previously foretold by Jesus to be the “rock” of the Church. And yet, Peter still turned away from Jesus at a crucial time, before ultimately returning and becoming a force for salvation.
In contrast, Paul didn’t serve or follow Christ until he had a personal encounter with him; in other words, he didn’t “drift away” so much as have his eyes opened to the truth . . . literally! As today’s reading from the Second Letter to Timothy put it, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.”
My father ultimately forgave me for destroying his television. I was deeply apologetic at the time, and remained so, turning the story into a shared anecdote between us. That story showed me that even if I did mess up dramatically, I could still be forgiven by my father and have a lifelong relationship with him. And as a father myself today, I know that – no matter the rift that could between my son and I – there is no mistake that he could make that couldn’t be healed if he willingly returned his heart to a loving attitude between us.
On today’s Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, then, let us pray for all those who have yet to turn their hearts and minds fully to God, that they may gain the wisdom of Peter to recognize their mistakes and seek to do better in the eyes of the Lord; or be converted on their own life journeys, like Paul, and live fully with Christ.
We are all called to sainthood. The lives of Saints Peter and Paul show how eagerly the Spirit is willing to work with the imperfect clay of humanity, to forge it into vessels worthy of eternity with God. All we have to do is seek to believe and be better.
<a href=”http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062916-mass-during-day.cfm”>Today’s readings: Acts 12:1-11; Ps 34:2-3,4-5,6-7,8-9; 2 Tm 4:6-8,17-18; Mt 16:13-19</a>