Monday, June 29, 2020

Two Saints

There was once a very devote man, he was independent, made a good living. He was self-sufficient, well educated in his religion and strong in his belief. He had been taught who and what was right, and who and what was wrong. Everyone knew where they stood with him, an upstanding member of his community and someone others looked up to, even perhaps envied. He was, as some people would say, “living the dream”.  He was a man of action, a leader, someone in command, when you had a difficult job that needed doing, this was the man you wanted. One day while on a road trip with some associates. As they were moving along and bragging about how successful they had been and what their next move should be. Amid all this babel, one by one something caught their attention, they noticed something in the sky, a light so bright it blinded them and struck them to the ground. Then this one man heard a voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"  Saul was in darkness, having been blinded, and he could not find his own way. His friends had to help him do what the risen Christ had told him to do. This is of course the story of Paul's conversion, and I trust we all know what happens from here. 

Peter and his companions had been fishing all night and had nothing to show for their effort. Again, and again they dropped their nets into the waters and hauled them back up empty again and again in the dark of night. Not even the breeze brought any comfort, it just gave them a chill, making the long night downright wretched. What was worse than the physical tiredness was the mental exhaustion.  Peter knew no fish meant no livelihood, no money, and no way to cover expenses. But after fishing in the dark, with the light came Christ, and with Christ came the light. 

In the First Reading we find Peter bound by chains, surrounded by guards, asleep in prison. But Peter was not bound by one set of chains but two, to call them uncomfortable would be an understatement. Peter had guards not only outside his cell but inside his cramped stuffy cell, next to him, around him day and night, with him for every breath he took.  And yet in all this confinement, how do we find Peter, was he awake and nervous, was he mumbling that his life was better before he encountered Jesus, was he pleading to be set free because he was wrongly accused? No, no and no. Peter was asleep, between two smelly and snoring, armed soldiers. Peter slept. Peter slept, because he knew he was free, Peter had become free by allowing himself to be bound, to Christ. 

On the road to Damascus after the risen Christ spoke to Paul, he responded by saying “What shall I do, Lord”? In that moment everything shifted for Paul. He realized what he thought was freedom was not, and that true freedom means being bound to Jesus Christ. Paul found that freedom was wanting what God wants and loving what God loves, not a life devoted to his own ambitions and ego, but to the will of God. Paul became a prisoner of Christ.   

Peter was a simple hard-working man, just trying to eke out a living doing the same job done by his father and his father’s father before him and his ancestors going back for generations. He was trying to keep food on the table. Peter was doing all that he could, he was bound to the life passed down to him, but in the end, he kept coming up empty. Then Jesus comes along and says, “Put out into deep waters and let down your nets”. Now if I had been there, I might have something along the lines of: “We’ve been doing that all night, and it ain’t workin.” But Peter responded, “Because you say so, I will let down the nets”.  And this is the moment everything changed for Peter, this is when Peter obtained freedom by binding himself to Christ. This was Peter’s way of saying “What shall I do Lord”? He recognized who Christ was in the boat. 

The fact that Peter recognizes Christ was apparent when they got back to shore. What is the first thing Peter did? He fell to his knees and told Christ to get away from him, because Peter knew he was a sinful man. One of the many paradoxes of faith and the spiritual life is that sometimes when you encounter someone who is strong in faith and love of God, instead of feeling blessed you feel dirty and unclean, because every wrong thought you have ever had and every wrong action you have ever done comes back to you. And you think to yourself, “I am a sinner”. I am sure that that does not come close to describing how Peter felt when encountering Christ. But Christ had plans for him, he was to become a fisher of men.

In the Gospel reading it is Peter who recognizes Jesus and says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.  Peter was able to recognize who Christ, and Christ had plans for Peter. Peter would be the rock upon which Christ would build His Church because Peter had faith and was able to see Christ and to know what direction he should go. Like Paul, Peter found freedom by binding himself to Christ. 

Peter and Paul were very different men. And they did not always agree on how to carry out the will of God. But the closer you look the more you find the had in common.  They were similar in their faith in Christ, it was the same Christ that they both bound themselves to, and by doing so gained their freedom. As different as they were, they were brought through darkness into light. They both knew that no matter what happened to them, if they remained faithful and trusted in the Lord all would go according to His plan. They both knew that everything would pass away, and in the by and by they would receive their reward. Another thing they had in common was love, yes love for God, love for people. This love is more than emotion, this is love as a verb. They wanted to share the gifts they had received; they wanted to go out and give what they had been given. 

They both suffered and were persecuted for their faith, and in the end were both martyred. We heard some of Peter's story today. In the Letter to the Corinthians Paul states that he was flogged, beaten with sticks, stoned, shipwrecked three times, the list goes on. There was physical and mental abuse for both. When Peter and Paul turned their lives over to Christ, Christ never promised it would be easy, but they knew it would be worth it, so they did what they were asked.   

The legacy of Saints Peter and Paul has been handed from one generation of faithful to the next, in many forms and shapes. One of the best examples is right in front of us, here at the Abbey. What bound Saints Peter and Paul together was far greater than what separated then, and what binds us together is far greater than that which could divide us. Like Saints Peter and Paul, we have all turned our backs on our former lives and bound ourselves to Christ in faith and love, in an ever-deepening relationship with God.  
Brother Stephen, our newly ordained deacon's homily for today's Solemnity.