Today the Church marks and remembers the witness of the two great Apostles of the Lord Jesus- Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
There have been, after all, many, many saints in the course of the Church’s long history and there were other Apostles, none of which get the same level of attention as Peter and Paul.
I will give you a kind of visual reference point.
Before you enter the great basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome, you encounter two monumental statues that stand watch over the entrance of the church. The statues were erected by Pope Pius IX in the 19th century and their placement was meant as a public statement about the Catholic Faith. The images the Apostles of are representations in stone of a great truth about, not only Peter and Paul, indicating the historical importance, not only to the Church but to civilization, but also the statues stand as testimony to a truth about the Catholic Faith itself.
What is this truth?
That the Faith of the Church proclaimed, professed, practiced now is the Apostolic Faith, which means it is the same Faith professed, proclaimed and practiced by the Apostles Peter and Paul.
You want to know what Peter believed about the Lord Jesus and the Church? You want to know what Paul believed about the Lord Jesus and the Church? They had the same Faith that the Catholic Church practices, professes and proclaims today.
This is an extraordinary claim- as bold and audacious as the Apostles Peter and Paul were, and it is the Catholic Faith.
When you stand at attention at Holy Mass, rising to your feet to profess the Creed, you are not just meant to be muttering a collection of religious propositions. You are, we are, at the moment, taking a kind of oath and in this oath, speaking the truth about the Lord Jesus and his Church and you are saying, what you speak, the testimony that at that moment you give, is the Faith of the Apostles. What we speak here, the testimony we give, is the faith that was given to us by the Apostles, particularly the Apostles Peter and Paul. That’s what the Creed is all about and that is why the Church professes the Creed with such gravity and solemnity.
Now I know that many cultural elites, even elites within the Church, resist the bold and audacious claim that the Church’s Faith today is the same Faith professed by the Apostles. Their preference is for a faith in the Lord Jesus that we just make up for ourselves, constructed out of ideas or feelings that we might have, or opinions that we prefer. That might be the cultural preference, and there are forms of Christian association that opt for a faith of ideas, feelings, and opinions, but whatever that kind of faith is, it is not the Catholic Faith.
The Catholic Faith is the Apostolic Faith, the Faith of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
It is the divine revelation given to the Apostles by the Lord Jesus himself and it represents to the world the truth about who the Lord Jesus really and truly is.
The Catholic Faith does not come from ourselves in the manner in which ideas and feelings come from our minds and emotions. The Catholic Faith comes from the Lord Jesus, who gives this revelation to the Apostles, and from the Apostles this Catholic Faith is given to us.
Thus, when you profess the Church’s Faith in the creed at Holy Mass or renew your baptismal promises, as we do on Easter day, or when you receive a Sacrament, like Baptism Eucharist or Confirmation, the Church doesn’t ask you to express what you think about the Church’s Faith or ask you how you feel about the Church’s Faith, but the Church asks you to profess the Catholic Faith.
This means that the Catholic Faith is not just whatever you might think it is or feel that it is, but it exists outside of your thoughts and emotions. You receive the Faith and if you profess and practice and proclaim the Catholic Faith, you are expressing that you give assent to that Faith- you aren’t just making things up for yourself.
And who ultimately did you receive the Catholic Faith from? The Catholic Faith is a revelation that comes from the Lord Jesus and he gave this revelation to the Apostles, and through the Apostles and their successors, that Catholic Faith has come to you.
This is the bold, audacious and, let’s face it folks, counter-cultural claim, that the Church marks and remembers today by calling our attention to the witness of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
When we profess that the Church’s Faith is Apostolic, that it is the Faith professed by Peter and Paul, we are testifying that the Church knows who the Lord Jesus really and truly is. Sure, there are many ideas, and opinions, and feelings about the Lord Jesus, but the real Jesus is the Jesus the Church gives witness to- and the Church’s witness to the Lord Jesus, when expressed in its integrity and truth, is witness to the same Lord Jesus who revealed himself to Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Bottom line: You come to know who the Lord Jesus is by coming to know him in the Church. The Church is the privileged bearer of the revelation of Christ because it knows who the Lord Jesus is, and can distinguish him from false representations, because we learned who the Lord Jesus really and truly is from Peter and Paul.
And this is also the great challenge to us. We live in a culture that is filled with false gospels and counterfeit Christs. There is really nothing unusual about this, as the Apostles Peter and Paul, faced down these dark powers themselves. Many of these false gospels and counterfeit Christs purport to be new, but they are really just re-packaged forms of deceptions and lies from long ago.
It is easy to get caught up in these false gospels and counterfeit Christs, because like almost all the dark powers, they present themselves to us as being enticing and interesting. But they really are not. A facsimile is never are important or interesting as the real thing.
The advocates of these false gospels and counterfeit Christs purport them to be the truth, and usually stake their claim to the truth by insisting that the Church has perpetrated a fantastic conspiracy and is guilty of a cover-up to keep the truth from you. Or they insist that whatever the Church professes about the Lord Jesus might just be true in some sense, but it is dated, and the Church should just get with the times.
This is an enticing argument for a culture like ours that so privileges progress and is enamored with the new and fascinated by conspiracies, but none of this will lead us to the Lord Jesus, because it seeks to separate Christ from his Church, the Apostolic Faith from your faith- and nothing good comes of this.
It is the purpose of the Apostolic Faith to gather the nations into communion with God in Christ. Knowing Christ, we know the one, true God, and from Christ we receive a new way of life called the Church, which is meant to be the great sign to the world that God is real and present and this world and everything in it is his kingdom. This would not be possible if Christ did not make himself known to his Apostles and reveal to them the truth of who he is.
From the Church’s beginning, Peter and Paul went out into the world, introducing the world to the same Jesus who had revealed himself to them. The great sign that their mission to introduce the nations to the Lord Jesus was faithful to who he really and truly is happened as people were gathered into communion with God in Christ into the Church- people came to know the Lord Jesus and share his life in his Church.
When we gather people into the Church, which is our mission, (the Church is not our private club) we carry on the mission Christ gave to Peter and Paul.
If our efforts succeed only in scattering, of dividing the Church against itself- if our efforts are not so much testimony to Christ, but are instead ideas and opinions about him, if what we do on behalf of the Church does not reach out into the world, taking great risks, to gather people into the Church, but instead remain self-interested and self-referential, then we have abandoned the mission of Peter and Paul, and given ourselves over to the service of false gospels and counterfeit Christs.
Do you know the Lord Jesus? If you don’t and you want to know him, you can come to know him through the testimony of Peter and Paul, testimony that will gather you into the Church.
If you do know the Lord Jesus, then gather up your courage and with boldness and audacity profess the Faith that comes to you from the Apostles Peter and Paul.
And once you have professed that Apostolic Faith (the Faith of Peter and Paul), set about sharing that faith with others and get ready to take risks so that you can fulfill your mission to gather your neighbors, indeed the world, into communion with Christ in his Church.