Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Peter has the keys and Paul has a sword. With these two devices, Peter and Paul preached the Gospel—the keys unlock the gates of heaven and the sword fights the good fight. Both these men were martyred for the faith by the Roman emperor, Nero. Peter was crucified and Paul beheaded. Though they share a martyr's death and a Christian's faith, Peter and Paul were startlingly different sorts of men. Peter was a fisherman, a working-class man with little or no education beyond what most Jewish men of his day received. Paul was a rabbi, a very well-educated Roman citizen with deep ties to the Gentile world. Peter spent his days with other fishermen, discussing tides, catches, and market prices. Paul likely spent his days teaching, public speaking, and rubbing elbows with the political and religious elite. Peter knew Christ personally as a teacher. Paul never met Jesus. Both were students of the Master, commissioned apostles, adventurous preachers, and, ultimately, martyrs for the teachings of Christ. With the keys to heaven and a sword for the fight, Peter and Paul founded an apostolic Church, a Church we have inherited as sons and daughters of the Father. How do we follow them in spreading the Good News?
In his homily celebrating these two foundational saints, our Holy Father, Benedict, writes, “. . .Peter and Paul, much as they differ from one another in human terms and notwithstanding the conflicts that arose in their relationship, illustrate a new way of being brothers, lived according to the Gospel. . .Only by following Jesus does one arrive at this new brotherhood.” By following Christ and his Gospel, we can arrive at a “new brotherhood.” Not a novel way of being friends, or a superficial means of claiming a “churchy” kinship. But a radically different way of understanding who and what we are to one another through our adoption by the Father in Christ. Because we have died and risen in the baptism of Christ, we are made to be the heirs of the Father's kingdom. As heirs, we inherit all that He has to give. To the Church, He has bequeathed His kingdom—the keys to open heaven's gates for all and the sword to fight against this world's errors and temptations. Our first step in spreading the Good News is make sure all God's creatures know that they are invited to the feast. The next step is to guard this invitation and those who have accepted it with all the strength of our faith and all the courage gifted to us by the Spirit.
After Christ gives the keys of heaven to Peter, he assures the disciples that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against [the Church].” If this is true, why resist evil? Why fight against the powers and principalities of the world? The last victory has gone to Christ. He won the war against death on the Cross. That evil cannot prevail against the Church is not a promise or a prediction. It's an historical fact. When Christians believe and behave as if we might lose the war against evil, we reveal a dangerous lack of faith in the Church and not only the Church but in Christ himself. You and I might be defeated by evil, so we fight. But never believe that there is a chance the Body of Christ will fall. When we fight to promote the Gospel and protect those who follow on the Way, we fight to ensure that the Father's invitation to the feast continues to be heard. Peter and Paul died for the faith so that His offer of eternal life might live on to this day. Our witness might not be as violent as theirs, but it is no less effective. Who will see Christ through you today, tomorrow? Who will ask you for the keys to heaven?
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