Homily preached at the
Solemn Mass on The Feast of SS Peter and Paul
by Msgr Andrew R Wadsworth
Cathedral of the Madeleine, Salt Lake City. June 29th 2012.
From the Introit and Epistle of today’s Mass:
Nunc scio vere, quia misit Dominus Angelum suum: et eripuit me de manu Herodis, et de omni expectation plebis Iudaeorum
Now I know in very deed that the Lord has sent his angel and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from every expectation of the Jewish people.
If you allow your eye to wander around this wonderful cathedral, you will quickly notice that wherever you look you can see angels. There is a very good reason for this and I imagine it is clear to everyone present. The iconography of this Church is a demonstration of a deep-seated Catholic principle – the notion that all that we depict in our Churches, just as with all that we celebrate in our liturgy, is an explication of an unseen but ever-present reality. A reality that is going on in and around us continually and yet (for the most part) lies tantalizingly beyond the perception of our senses and yet it is through the same senses that faith is nourished and strengthened… faith (after all) comes by hearing (Rom 10,17)… taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps 34,8).
In a week in which there has been much to dazzle the eye as there has been much to delight the ear, it would be very easy to think that ours is a religion that confuses sensory overload with an authentic experience of God. That, of course, would be very wrong and would reduce all that we hold dear and know to be true to the level of the most appalling idolatry – we would have truly made God in our own image and likeness and we would be guilty of bowing down before that which is the work of our own hands. Fortunately, we are redeemed from all this and our redemption, which is through the completed work of Calvary, made present to us in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, rescues us from all this and so much more in our human frailty that would so easily deceive and mislead us in our interaction with the Divine Mystery.
Today’s feast is about God doing something very wonderful – the rescue of Peter from his chains by an angel who leads him, by an unknown path, to freedom. All this is accomplished, beyond Peter’s understanding, but leads him to be able to make the most magnificent profession of faith: “Now I know in very deed that the Lord has sent his angel and has delivered me”. Peter comes to a knowledge, through real personal experience, that it is all true – all that he has heard and tried to believe, through these long years, is actually and demonstrably true. If it was true for St Peter, it can be true also for us, perhaps especially those of us who have known the Church from our earliest years and sometimes feel imprisoned by those who seek to limit the freedom we know to be God’s greatest gift.
For others among us, it will be the dramatic conversion and about turn of St Paul that rings true. Somewhat in the shadows in today’s feast, but present none the less and inspiring in us the thought that God can even rescue those who have made a prison for themselves and have believed much less than the truth. Two less likely men would be hard to find as princes of the Apostles and foundations of the Church, but in them we see the whole spectrum of human experience and see mirrored back to us the difficulty that so often attends our very tentative moves towards God and his truth. As is so often the case, God’s ways are not our ways and his wisdom does not have to conform to the criteria of our judgment. As St Thérèse would put it: ‘toute est grâce – all is grace’!
On this most Roman of feasts, although our bodies are here in this beautiful Cathedral in Salt Lake City, surely our hearts are in Rome, that holy city hallowed by the witness and preaching of SS Peter & Paul and place of their martyrdom and their burial? Surely our hearts are with him who in God’s providence is successor to Peter and stands now in our midst as the sign of our unity and the guarantee that the faith that we hold is indeed that which was delivered to the Apostles by the Lord himself. The Church has a shape, willed by Christ and built upon the rock which is Peter. We rejoice that God, in his mercy, has called us to stand upon that rock and we pray today for all those who will have received from the hands of Peter the pallium which is the sign of apostolic unity among our pastors and the assurance that they, like Peter & Paul, are sent to us by God to lead us and guide us. Let us pray also that many more people will be drawn to this unity which God has bestowed upon his Church and which is his will for all who rejoice in the name of Christian. And as we pray for ourselves, let us never lose sight of the fact that God is continually rescuing us from all that would hold us captive and that his grace and mercy are greater than all our weakness. May God bless you.