Saturday, June 28, 2008

Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, Apostles
Vigil Mass
Repairing the Damage

Readings: Acts 3:1-10; Psalm 19:2-3, 4-5; Gal 1:11-20; Jn 21:15-19
Picture: CC Mahatma4711

Sisters and brothers, on this solemn feast of the apostles Peter and Paul, it might be useful to begin our reflection by asking why we honor these two saints. What is it about them that we find so attractive? What can we learn from them?

Permit me first to share a personal memory with you. Before joining religious life, I was a member of a prayer group. And one of the things we did as a group was to hold meetings or seminars in which some of us would occasionally be asked to give a talk or a sharing, even though we had no formal religious training. Sometimes, on such occasions, we were fortunate enough to have our spiritual director with us. And, after we had said our piece, we’d ask him if he had something to add. He usually obliged, but not without first prefacing his presentation with the following remark: I am here, he would say, with a straight face and a twinkle in his eye, and in a charming French accent, I am here to repair the damage!

To repair the damage… That seems to be an accurate summary of what we find in our Mass readings today. In the first reading the damaged feet and ankles of the man who was a cripple from birth are made firm. At first he could not walk. He needed to be carried. He spent his days pitifully lying by the Temple entrance begging. Then, in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, Peter takes him by the hand and helps him to stand up. Here we see something of the greatness of the two saints and apostles whom we remember today. Here, in this moving image of a broken person – someone damaged in body and in spirit –being lifted up to health and wholeness, we see the answer to our questions. Here we find the reason why we honor Peter and Paul. For, after their respective conversions, this is what each of them spent their lives doing: repairing the damage. Paul did this through his travels among the gentiles. And Peter through his ministry among the circumcised.

But this is not the whole story. There is much more that needs to be said. There is a deeper reason why we find Peter and Paul attractive. For the image of the cripple being healed at the Beautiful Gate reminds us not only of how Peter and Paul were repairers of the damaged. It also invites us to reflect on how they were each able to do this only because they themselves were first repaired.

Isn’t this what Paul is speaking about in the second reading? You must have heard of my career, he tells the Galatians, how merciless I was in persecuting the Church of God, how much damage I did to it… But Paul’s persecution of the Church was not the only damage that needed repairing. His cruel and misplaced zeal was rooted in a deeper affliction. Paul was crippled by his own self-righteousness and overconfidence. Proud of his own status and learning as a Pharisee, he never once entertained the thought that he might be wrong.

Then came that fateful day on the road to Damascus, when the crucified Jesus was revealed to him. Then came that dramatic turning point in his life when he was struck off his horse and led to see how blind, how damaged, he actually was. That was the new beginning. That was how the damaged Paul was gradually repaired, so that he might then introduce others to Christ, the one great Repairer of sin and death.

We find something similar in the story of Peter. The gospel reading is a passage that we all know well. We know that, through his threefold questioning, Jesus is repairing the relationship that was damaged by Peter’s earlier threefold denial during the Lord’s Passion. But, as it was in the case of Paul, so too is it with Peter. There is something deeper here. The damage being repaired goes beyond Peter’s denial. We get a hint of what this damage is by comparing Peter’s responses in today’s gospel with what he says to Jesus at the Last Supper. There, Jesus tells him: Where I am going you cannot follow me now; you will follow me later. To which Peter quickly replies: Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you (John 13:36-37). Compare this earlier self-confidence with what Peter says today: Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.

As with Paul, what we find here is a new beginning. And more than a new beginning, this is a radical transplanting. Peter’s life is uprooted from its earlier reliance on the self and its achievements and then re-rooted in the merciful self-sacrificing love of his Master, a love that invites a response. Do you love me? Feed my sheep…

Sisters and brothers, isn’t this experience of Peter and Paul – this grace of being repaired and then being called to be repairers – isn’t this what is being offered to us as well? And isn’t this a grace that is so much needed in our world today? We live in a time when, perhaps more than ever before, we human beings have so much to be proud of. Our technological advances allow us to explore the farthest reaches of space and the deepest recesses of our world. Medical science is helping us to live longer and more comfortable lives. In an instant we can communicate with people halfway across the globe.

And yet, just when we might let these marvelous achievements go to our heads, we continue to encounter painful reminders of how vulnerable and how damaged we are. Earthquakes and typhoons, starving people and brutal conflicts, rising prices and meaningless lives, disasters both natural and manufactured: all these serve to strike us off the high horses of our arrogance and complacency.

Today, our damaged world continues to require repair. And it is in order to do this that Jesus the Lord continues to call and send out his disciples, as he did Peter and Paul. But to truly hear and answer his call, to truly be generous in going forth, it is necessary that we first realize the damage we ourselves suffer. We must first submit our broken hearts to the divine Healer for repair. We must first allow ourselves to be firmly rooted in the love of the Good Shepherd for his sheep.

Sisters and brothers, how does the Lord desire to repair the damage both in and through us today?

1 comment:

  1. How does the Lord desire to repair the damage in and through us today? Looks like an exercise in humility :-p and an exercise in comprehension of your post, Fr Chris! ;-)

    Sts Peter and Paul are endearing to us because they were instrumental in the rapid spread of the gospel among Jews and Gentiles AND they eventually loved God unto death. More importantly, because they are so humanly imperfect! St Peter thought he knew himself well, that he was all ready to lay down his life for Jesus. He realized shortly after that he wasn't as brave as he thought. St Paul thought he knew God very well, and he learnt on the road to Damascus that he didn't even recognize Christ. Aren't these failings that we can see within ourselves, especially over time?

    Therefore, we need to be:
    - Be aware that we may not be as strong as we think we are.
    - Be aware that we could be wrong about God and/or other people.
    - Acknowledge the brokenness within us, and submit our broken hearts to the divine Healer for repair.
    - Be compassionate with the failings of others.
    - Be firmly rooted in the merciful and self-sacrificing love of the Good Shepherd.
    - Remind/Guide other people to do likewise.


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