..the feast today of two of the greatest saints of Christianity, St Peter & St Paul.. remembered together for their diversity in ministry & the greatness in their love of Jesus.. Peter ; the rock the foundation of the Christian Church & its journey into orthodoxy.. Paul ; the missionary disciple out on front line for the messy Church..in conflict dispute & a life of example which won hearts & minds.. & pray, where are you this morning ? a foundational parishioner, a trusted keyholder? or are you at your best out there winning new souls for Christ by example? ..notice please there is no third option..no passengers it is crew only..
“..you too were with Jesus! ..I do not know the man..” ; Lord have mercy “..why, your accent gives you away!..I do not know the man..” ; Christ have mercy “..Saul [Paul] entirely approved of the killing “ [ of Stephen ] ; Lord have mercy May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins & bring us to everlasting life. Amen.
..the gospel brings to mind & heart the daily government briefings of recent weeks; some days two podiums rather like two pulpits, as those in authority are asked/challenged to give a response to crucial questions fringe questions appropriately briefly “who do people say the Son of Man is?” & then to get down to key issues “who do you say I am?” “what are the latest 24hrs deaths statistics?” “how soon can we expect a vaccine to be found?” & a difference between the two key responders; Prime Minister Boris Johnson & Director of Health Services, Professor Chris Witty..difference between “potestas” the power to enforce, & “auctoritas” the power of inherent truth..between “some say John the Baptist, others Elijah Jeremiah or one of the prophets” it is not quite “we don’t know”, but evading the simple question; the flakiness of haircut & condescending tone of reply is less than convincing..& “auctoritas” of the Director of Health, who says very little but is convincing..he hasn’t all the answers, yet a sense he struggles alongside us, as the real truth emerges for us together..”you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” a truth a conviction, living & emerging, ever in the process of becoming; breaking news, ever unpredictable involving risk mistake courage, regularly revising statistics, the R number “semper reformanda” always reforming; the mission statement of the Catholic Church.. dare I say it a Peter & a Paul personified; Peter identified in book on characters in Scripture as “he came to God by doing it wrong” Boris Johnson baptised RC, one of our Herdwicks, becoming reknowned for us U turns, someone some of us know very well. ”you are the Christ” firm definitive recognition yet soon to disown him three times.. walking on water towards his master in his Covid moment of risk courage, takes his eye off Jesus & begins to sink “Lord save me!” “man of little faith, why did you doubt?” & not in spite of all this but because of it “you are Peter & on this rock I will build my Church”..& if Peter was rock then who was sand but Paul..wandering disciple sand filled sandals, initially as a radical in conservative right wing Judaism, a persecutor passionate ruthless, collaborating in death by stoning of Stephen ; his birth name Saul like Peters’ Cephas..the challenge to each to a life & faith change gained them fresh identity; his road to Damascus experience “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me so?” his conversion, slain in the Spirit as the terrorist becomes the charismatic, his old self, false/fabricated, not expelled but now incorporated into the person of the real Christ..wandering disciple of conversion his teachings & writings, an “auctoritas” convincing converting based on power of inherent truth “alitheia” “that which cannot be forgotten” not only because it is written in stone on rock in doctrine dogma Vatican documents Canon Law, but primarily because it is true story, of experience remembered told & re-told; an authority which comes from a lifestyle & no longer in need of a throne or popemobile or Swiss guards to assert it, the well-worn white habit of Pope Francis, the well-worn working suit of Chris Witty familiar reassuring believable.. essence of today’s feast is to celebrate presence necessity vitality of each character in faith; Peter’s rock, Paul’s sand, & contrary to Matthew’s gospel where Matthews Jesus praises house Church builders who build on rock, & ridicules sandcastles of wanderers, we need both. 50yrs ago when I was a Quantity Surveyor, & we were excavating foundations on a housing estate or on a new Army Camp for the MOD, two hazards we hoped to avoid were rock & sand, both. Rock, against all common sense, was real danger when you’d think like Matthew it was best of foundations, like Rome or Vatican. It had to be dug out, slow hazardous painful work; pneumatic drills it was so hard & uncompromising; & sand, running sand like Filey Beach, when you dug into it space would be filled again & again; deep unstable life-threatening like quicksand..however, & this is why in faith we can often learn from story, experience wisdom of the world, & vice versa, ideal foundation for any building is the combination of both; rock & sand, Peter & Paul; build on rock & slightest earth tremor, with no give, the rock cracks; build on sand & you see tragic examples all down east coast, but put down a blinding layer of sand then a foundation of rock or concrete, & you have a structure that has the stability to be dependable reliable, & with necessary flexibility to react to immediate needs, of crisis of earth tremor, Covid-19 & of racism. So, rock & sand, the Council of Trent 1534-1565 & Pope Francis’ homily for today’s feast, “semper reformanda “ always reforming; tradition & progressiveness; stability & change.. we come to God not by trying to do it right, because Rome says this or that, but like Peter by getting it wrong..his mistakes & our mistakes rebalanced by Jesus’ presence goodness & patience, rock & sand..& Paul, the midwife who can only bring out what is already there; heart of our best teachers is to help you & I fulfil the divine expectations of us; some answers given, from “auctoritas” like Chris Witty, but only by allowing you to first of all experience the crisis, the dilemma & the struggle within yourself [to continue with lockdown or slowly to lift it?] Paul leads us into liminal space, & leaves us there for a little while until we grow up just a little bit more, in a faith that is rooted on & in togetherness..”the surrender into communion”..we yearn/pine self pitifully for its return in our Church building “when can we get back to normal Fr Bede?” whilst not appreciating we already have it; in spiritual communion, inter-person communion, intra-home communion, as we live, each of us, with a Peter & a Paul, you in your dining room, me in my cloister.. ..& notice please no third option; no passengers in your home, in our faith family here, nor in the Abbey..”this generation asks for a sign” said a tiring disheartened Jesus..& the sign is as ever counter cultural “no social nor spiritual distancing” ..no passengers “crew only”..& what a crew ! “we were made for these times” remember?..will you muster at our Church door on a very special day, yet to be decided by the Peter’s for the Paul’s, who serve us in the hierarchy, for the resumption of Mass, & there to sign on to join our crew, setting out for the same destination but, from now on, with some recalibrating of our compass?..