Homily for the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, 29/6/22

posted 4 Jul 2022, 02:43 by Parish Office

History has a knack of repeating itself. We just have to be sufficiently on the ball in order to spot it. But no matter what happens, Christ is with us.

Both Sts Peter and Paul had occasions when they got into difficulty with the ruling powers. At different times they were arrested and tried and sent to gaol – and most of the time managed to get out again. Today’s account in the first reading is rather miraculous: St Peter is literally released from prison by heavenly intervention. But ultimately at the end, they were both martyred, with St Peter being crucified upside-down and St Paul was beheaded. On the site of their martyrdom, there are now large basilicas in Rome, and in the middle of the colonnade of St Peter’s is a large obelisk. It was originally a pagan monument, and was there when St Peter was executed. But now it is surmounted by a cross, and bears the words, Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat. Christus ab omni malo plebem suam defendat – Google Translate gives us in English, “Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ rules. Christ protects his people from all evil”. On one level, you could say that the martyrdom of Sts Peter and Paul was a failure, in that they lost their lives. But on another level it was a victory – they remained faithful to Christ no matter what, and they inspired countless others to follow Christ even to the shedding of their blood, and today basilicas stand in their honour on the site of their martyrdom. Their persecutors are no more.

In fact, thinking of the cross, how did the Roman persecution come to an end? The story goes that Constantine, before the battle of Milvian Bridge, saw a cross in the sky together with the words, In hoc signo vinces – “In this sign you will conquer”. He got the soldiers to paint crosses on their shields, and he won the battle, and as emperor he legalised Christianity in 313 AD.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that after 313 AD there has never, ever, been any persecution of Christianity. It comes back in different forms now and then. And today, with the rise of secularism and other movements at odds with the Catholic faith, conflict is inevitable.

Back in 2012, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said,

“Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests, entirely outside of the current political debate, I was trying to express in overly dramatic fashion what the complete secularization of our society could bring.”

This is what he said back in 2010:

“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die as a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

The recent trial of Cardinal Pell in Australia has led some to wonder if these words were, in a certain sense, prophetic. Cardinal Pell was convicted on charges brought by one person, whilst twenty other witnesses said that it was impossible for that to have happened in a busy sacristy with so many other people around. He appealed, and his appeal was dismissed in a 2-1 decision. Then he made a final appeal to the Australian High Court and his convictions were unanimously quashed – Cardinal Pell left prison to the cheers of the other prisoners, just over a year after his initial conviction.

It was a case that exposed bitter divisions in society, and vitriol in certain parts of the media. But in a statement after he was released, Cardinal Pell both re-affirmed his innocence, and said that he held no ill-will towards his accuser.

What will the future bring in terms of persecution or lack of persecution? That we do not know. The future we do not know, just as ten years ago, who would have predicted a world-wide pandemic? But whilst we do know that history can repeat itself, we also know that, no matter what, God is with us. Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat. Christus ab omni malo plebem suam defendat – “Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ rules. Christ protects his people from all evil”.