Early on the history of the Catholic Church an admiration existed for Peter and Paul. Aside of Jesus Christ himself, these two men are the main characters in the New Testament. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, church leader Clement of Rome tells of the leadership of Peter and Peter. He wrote,
There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one not one but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory. By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance. Unto these men of holy lives was gathered a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among ourselves (First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians 5:4-6:1).
Living in the 1st century A.D., Clement’s praise of the first leaders of the Church is evidence that something special changed these men. God selected a simple fisherman and a reformed murderer to head the Catholic Church. I believe the Holy Spirit guided the Church to forever link these two saints lives through having the same feast day on June 29th.
1. Creativity of Truth [St. Paul]: Having the ability to think outside the box and preach to vastly different audiences is a gift. St. Paul possessed both creativity and the flexibility to frame his thoughts to fit the needs and understanding of his particular audiences. Writer of almost 2/3 of the New Testament, St. Paul represents the creative aspect of the Catholic faith. He brings to the table dynamic, vibrant, creative theology to teach Christians in the early Church and today.
The Apostle of the Gentile used many tangible and relatable examples to teach the faith. One of my personal favorites comes from 1 Corinthians 12. Paul clearly and succinctly communicates the fact that unity is found within diversity. He provides the analogy of the Church consisting of one body with many parts and Jesus Christ as the ultimate head of the body. Another clear and understandable example of the love and teaching of God is St. Paul’s frequent references to Christians as adopted children of God. In Romans 8:14-17 he writes, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.j 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba,* Father!”k 16The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,l 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
2. Stability of Truth [St. Peter]: Unlike Paul who represents the intellectual, creative, and theological side of truth, Peter is a model for the consistency and enduring nature of
Catholic teaching. Jesus instituted the papacy in Matthew 16:17-19. According to the evangelist the charge to the future pope went as follows,
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18k 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. 19l I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The lead up to this significant institutional passage is Peter’s realization of Jesus’ true identity is the Christ. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Peter led the Catholic Church after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. He led the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 and displayed the ultimate mark of faith in his martyrdom. The papacy continues to be an office guided by the Holy Spirit by which unites Christianity and acts as the supreme authority on matters related to faith and morality.
3. Analogy of Tetherball: Truth is unchanging but our understanding of truth developed over the centuries. The genius of the Catholic Church is apparent in the consolidation of Peter and Paul’s feast on a single day. There is a schoolyard game that comes to mind to describe the relationship between the first pope and the great Apostle to the Gentiles—tetherball! Incidentally, it was not until my early twenties that I discovered the joy and fun this recess game provide despite its simplistic nature. I even purchased a tetherball at my local sporting goods store in hopes to eventually install a tetherball post in my background.
To get back from my tetherball tangent, the post in this game reminds me of the stability that the papacy of St. Peter provides. The ball and rope represent the creative theology of
St. Paul. Both are essential aspects of the game [and the Catholic faith]. Without the stability of the papacy, truth devolves into subjectivity and confusion ensues. Likewise, an absence of dynamic theological thought [represented by Paul] leads to staleness, rigidity, and irrelevancy of Catholic teaching. Remember kids recess is an important subject in school too—you never know when you can apply lessons from leisure to real life!
I find no more appropriate way of closing my thoughts on these holy individuals than to cite the words of the successor of Peter. Pope Francis on June 29th, 2017 stated, “The Fathers of the Church liked to compare the holy apostles Peter and Paul to two columns, on which the visible building of the Church rests. Both sealed with their own blood their testimony to Christ of preaching and service to the nascent Christian community.”
I have learned that the more a person learns about a particular subject or person there exists a direct correlation in an increased amount of titles or synonyms to describe them. For example, I had a lot of nicknames as an infant and toddler because of my parent’s love toward me. I have inherited that same knack to create multiple appellations for my children as well.
Within the Catholic Church, our honor toward Mary, the Mother of God, lends itself to a burgeoning of titles to reference her too. Doing some research for a lesson on Mary I was teaching I learned that she has over 2,000 names and titles given to her throughout the history of the Catholic history! I will barely scratch the surface of this topic by reflecting on 3 specific titles of Mary that provide me hope on a daily basis.
1. Undoer of Knots: This is a relatively new devotion toward Mary. I became aware of this unique title through my reading of a biography of Pope Francis- shortly after his election to the papacy. Mary as Undoer of Knots is his personal favorite Marian devotion. Below is the prayer associated with this nascent devotional practice:
Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exist in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exists in my life. You know very well how desperate I am, my pain, and how I am bound by these knots. Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of his children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life. No one, not even the evil one himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone. Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot.
There is something tangible and raw and this prayer. Life is messy. Sometimes due to my own fallen nature, and occasionally because of the sinfulness of others, my life becomes knotted. My personal struggles develop into a Mobius strip of suffering. Reciting the prayer and asking for Mary as Undoer of Knots to help straighten me out is both a peaceful and confident feeling.
2. Star of the Sea: Along with Undoer of Knots, Mary as Star of the Sea is new title I am now assigning personally to our Blessed Mother. Historically speaking though, this title is as ancient as the sea. From early in the Church’s history this appellation has been associated with Mary. Throughout the Holy Scriptures the sea and oceans viewed as dangerous waters to transverse. During the night, stars helped to guide sailors to safety. In an analogous way, Mary acts as a guide, not our source of salvation [that is reserved for God alone!] toward salvation. Mary as our Mother is a protector of us, her children, against the tumultuous waters of life. According to the great Early Church Father, St. Ephraim, Mary is “the safe harbor of all sailing on the sea the world.” Centuries later, Pope Leo XIII uses similar language to describe Mary. He called her “safe harbor of travelers.”
Traveling is a universal experience among mankind. Mary as Star of the Sea reminds of the importance of reliance on others, to guide in times of strive and tumult.
3. Refuge of Sinners: Because the first woman, Eve, is associated as the bringer of suffering into the world through her fall in the Garden of Eden, Mary is traditionally seem as the New Eve. Together with being Star of the Sea and Undoer of Knots, the third Marian designation that fills me with hope is Mary as Refuge of Sinners. The word refuge originates from a French word meaning “to flee”. It makes sense for us to connect this title to the person of the Mother of God. Moms are people who their children flock or flee to in times of suffering or distress. As the most perfect and universal mother, Mary is a sure person to seek refuge from against the prowess of Satan and temptation.
The beauty of the Catholic Church is the great diversity that exists within its universal walls. Marian devotion is a gift to help bring us closer to God. I hope that I have shed some light on the significance of these three titles of Mary. I pray that I may continue to gain insight and guidance through my spiritual mother and my I always be pointed toward Christ!
I love random facts! I find they are great conversation starters and help me to trigger and bridge past and seemingly unconnected memories together. Speaking of the subject of bridges, I recently learned that the world’s longest bridge is over 102 miles! Carrying trains this incredible engineering feat connects the cities of Nanjing and Shanghai.
Aside from being massive architectural projects and accomplishments, the daily function of a bridge is a little more mundane—it serves as a connection between two points that otherwise could not meet or communicate. In a similar way today I am going to share my thoughts on how I myself and all Catholics, and Christians in general, are called to act a bridge between God and humanity. Examining Scripture, Tradition, and evidence from a strictly logical standpoint, I put forth three reasons why all Christians need to be bridge-builders
1. For the Bible tells Me So: You do not have to look far in the New Testament before you discover examples of Jesus promoting unity and building relationships with traditional 1st century outsider groups. In John 4, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at the ancient water-cooler, the well of Jacob. Here is reaches out to a Samaritan who Jews ostracized during ancient times. Despite this Jesus provides her an offer of everlasting water. She readily exclaims, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:15).
The Gospel of St. Luke abounds with examples of Jesus ministering to outcasts and “building bridges” to all of humanity. I will list just a few: shepherds being invited to witness the birth of Christ (Luke 2:15-20), call of Levi the tax collector (Luke 5:27-32), forgiving the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50, and sending out of the seventy-two disciples to minister to others (Luke 10: 1-10).
Finally, I want to share the instance in the Acts of the Apostles where possible discord over whether followers of Christ needed to be circumcised in the custom of Judaism. In Acts 15 the Council of Jerusalem took place and God provided unity in this affair by bestowing authority to Peter through the power of the Holy Spirit. According to the author of Acts the following happened:
After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe.c 8And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the holy Spirit just as he did us.d 9He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts.e 10Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?f 11On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus,g in the same way as they.”* 12The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them. (Acts 15:7-12).
In the midst of such authority silent reflection and pondering took place and unity flourished.
2. Follow Francis: Continuing on the theme of unity promoted by papal authority, Pope Francis on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall told Christians to, “Build bridges of understanding and dialogue.” In the pope is a visible sign of the unity of the Catholic Church. We as Catholic look to the pope with honor and as a leader of the faith not because he tells us but because Jesus gave us the gift of the papacy.
Like Francis, the late Pope John Paul II promoted ecumenism [fancy word for promoting unity J) The Polish pontiff tells us in his encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint [On Commitment to Ecumenism],
Together with all Christ’s disciples, the Catholic Church bases upon God’s plan her ecumenical commitment to gather all Christians
into unity. Indeed, “the Church is not a reality closed in on herself. Rather, she is permanently open to missionary and ecumenical endeavor, for she is sent to the world to announce and witness, to make present and spread the mystery of communion which is essential to her, and to gather all people and all things into Christ, so as to be for all an ‘inseparable sacrament of unity’…The unity of all divided humanity is the will of God (nos. 5-6).
3. Brains, brains, brains: I was binge watching an episode of The Walk Dead [YES I DID JUST TRANSITION FROM THE POPE TO ZOMBIES!!] a couple summers ago and took an important lesson from the show. In dire situations humans will work together to survive despite coming from various backgrounds. Police officers, farmers, and pizza delivery boys were able to unite for a common objective [namely to avoid being turned into a zombie] and I came away from the show thinking: should all people, in particular Christians unite? From a strictly logical standpoint people tend to be happier when working together as a team. This is true for me. At work I am more fulfilled when I work to serve the rest of my co-workers and assist throughout the day as opposed to having a self-serving mentality. Moreover, the old adage “two heads are better than one” is true when it comes to uniting and forging improved relationships.
Please do not interpret my urging for all Christians to be bridge-makers as a full on endorsement of compromising your Christians values completely. There are some non-negotiables I hold as a Catholic-Christian. I will not sell out my faith and I believe in the value of life at all stages. That being said, when it comes to me interacting people with completely different world outlooks
from myself I need to exercise patience, clarity in my thoughts, and charity in my dialogue to help others see the value in my positions. I also need to be humble enough to see things from others’ perspectives as well. Bridge-building is not an easy process—it is long and toilsome. With the gift of understanding and patience from the Holy Spirit such dialogue is possible!