On Monday we celebrate the Solemnity of Peter and Paul, one of the great feasts in the Church calendar. It has very special meaning for me because of having lived in Rome for five years when I was doing my doctoral studies. One year a friend who is a priest and serves as a chaplain in the Air Force came to visit and brought along another chaplain who is a Protestant minister. The first two sites that Chaplain Chase wanted to see were the tomb of Saint Peter and the place where Paul was imprisoned. As we were standing at Peter’s tomb, he said, “for all of the differences there are among Christians, we all agree that Paul and Peter were here in Rome and that they were the church’s first two great leaders.” It was a reminder for me, that indeed, Peter and Paul are revered by all Christians. The three of us could stand and pray together at the tomb of Saint Peter grateful for the preaching and witness of these two martyrs of the faith.
An Ecumencial Celebration
Indeed, the official celebration of the solemnity is Ecumenical. Pope Benedict XVI will gather with leaders of Christian communities for a Vespers service at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. This will also mark the closing of the official celebration of the year of Saint Paul.
The Petrine and Pauline Charism Today
Often within religious institutions or Catholic organizations people speak of the birth of the organization reflecting the Pauline and Petrine charisms. For many, the founder of a religious order tends to be like Paul, charismatic, dynamic, a preacher with a vision who can attract followers. Perhaps Francis of Assisi or Mother Theresa come to mind. The person who succeeds the founder, very often is someone with the Petrine charism. This is the person responsible for taking the vision and creating a structure so that the work of the founder can grow and spread. The “second founder” as these men and women are sometimes called, are not always as well known as the founder, but their work is vital to the success of the mission.
As a church that is universal in scope, the office of the Pope–the Petrine Office –secures the institutional life of the Church. It both represents the unity of the Catholic Church and it insures our common identity and mission. At the same time, the church is at its core is missionary and so it insists that men and women, clergy, religious and lay are preaching and teaching the Gospel throughout the world–the Pauline charism.
As we celebrate this feast, give thanks to God for the leadership of Peter and Paul and for those who continue building the kingdom of God through the Pauline and Petrine charism.
On a lighter note, it is not only a feast day, but a civic holiday because Peter is the patron saint of Rome. The city of Rome celebrates the feast in a big way, business and shops are closed and the day ends with spectacular fireworks.