Deacon Cornellís Homily


Acts 12:1-11
2 Timothy 4:6-8,17-18
Matthew 16:13-19


June 28-29, 2003, Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, Cycle B

It is sad to say but there are people in this economy who have to choose between paying the rent and paying for food. There are people who have to choose between paying for food and paying for needed medicine. When someone has to make that kind of a decision, it is called robbing Peter to pay Paul.

This saying came into our language around the time of the great fire of London in 1666. After the fire, they raided the coffers of St. Peterís church to pay for the repair of the much larger St. Paulís.The implication behind a decision to rob Peter to pay Paul is that in an ideal world you would do both rather than having to choose between the two alternatives.

Our Catholic faith is often referred to as a faith of the both/and rather than one of either/or. In order to start to understand our faith, we need to be able to hold two opposing, and sometimes conflicting, ideas at the same time. Our tendency is to want to move towards one side or the other, or worse yet, to create some compromise that is in the middle, but when we do that we are robbing Peter to pay Paul. We are both flesh and spirit, at the very same time. We are both saint and sinner, at the very same time. The Church is both human and divine, at the same time. Our God is both completely other from us humans and at the same time, in Jesus, our God is perfectly human. Godís kingdom is at hand but it is not yet fully established.

When you stop and think about it, creation is very much a both/and world. It is full of these opposites that must be held at the same time, in creative tension, or we start getting into trouble. Human beings are male and female, and that is the ideal. Light has both wave and particle characteristics. Ideal weather is both rain and sunshine. Too much of either causes either drought or flooding, and a compromise that is somewhere in between is a damp drizzly day.

I would suggest that St. Peter and St. Paul represent two poles of what it means to be Church, and that these two poles must be kept in creative tension rather than moving toward one or the other, or trying to find a compromise in the middle. And in these times of upheaval and renewal in the Church in Boston, in America, I think it is good to reflect on their differences.

Peter represents the organizational Church. He is called by Jesus to be a foundation, a rock that anchors the Church. He was with Jesus from the very beginning of his public ministry, and so represents the tradition of the Church. The keys Jesus gives him metaphorically represent the charism of keeping the Church from straying from truth. Peter is slow to move past the early Churchís Jewish heritage, and until forced out by persecution, stays around Jerusalem.

Paul represents the part of the Church that seems to derive from the direct inspiration of the Spirit. On the surface, it may seem as if the Spirit is working outside or even in opposition to the organized Church but as we look closer we find that this is not the case. Paul does not come from the established leadership of the Church. He was not with Jesus during his life on earth, nor was he chosen, like Matthias, by those who were. His calling is direct, and his formation takes place away from the established Church in Jerusalem. Paul pushes the envelope, diving headlong into missionary work, not only to far away places, but to the Gentiles. He is quick to drop old practices and requirements when he sees them as superfluous or even as being obstacles to the faith. But notice that in all Paul does, he comes back to meet with Peter and the other Christians in the established Church to verify that what he is preaching is correct, and to obtain their blessing and approval.He is always concerned about building up the whole Church, not just following his own agenda.

As we look back at the history of the Church we see that both types of leaders are needed. We need to be open to the Spirit leading us into new ways of being Church here in the 21st century but at the same time, we need to make sure that we are being led by the Spirit of God by constantly using the rock of the Church as established by Christ as our foundation and benchmark. All our actions must be focused on building up the Church on the foundation established by Christ.

As we struggle to be Church personally, as a parish, and as an Archdiocese, we need both Peter and Paul. As we continue the healing from the scandals of past years, to wrestling with the inevitable state of not having a resident pastor, to planning how to better serve our young people, we need to be Paul letting the Spirit lead us to new solutions, new approaches to being Church. But at the same time we need to be Peter, always checking to make sure we are branches connected to the true vine, anchored to the rock on which Christ is building his Church.

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