WORD MADE FLESH
Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul – June 29, 2014
Acts 12.1-11 | Psalm 34 | 2 Timothy 4.6-8, 17-18 | Matthew 16.13-19
June 23, 2014
When you walk the Via Appia, hoping not to twist an ankle on the large, flat stones of this ancient road, it is hard not to think about St. Peter. His sandals must have trod the same stones, his eyes seen the same or similar sights.
Both sides of this ancient road were lined with tombs at that time, the more ancient ones closer to the city gates. The huge cylindrical mausoleum of the wealthy aristocratic woman Caecilla Metella must have still gleamed with marble decorations, reliefs of once-sacrificed bulls' heads, and heavy swags of fruit and leaves.
'I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.'
On that late spring day, St. Peter must have left Rome with a strong sense of relief, not only because of the persecutions raging there. That city was wallowing in its triumphant, brutal paganism, power and wealth. Peter would have been happy to leave the oppressive atmosphere of facing the prince of this world, the evil one.
Rome's centre was taken over by magnificent huge temples and public buildings, all of them in various kinds of marble bought with spoils of war. Palaces of emperors looking down from the hill of Palatine at the Forum Romanum gave clear indications of whose hands held the reigns of triumphal chariots before which captives were paraded.
Even the recent massive fire could not extinguish that sense of overwhelming, unstoppable power of pagan Rome.
If you were a stranger, a poor, aging Jew from the antipodes of the empire, if you were raised on the innocent shores of the Sea of Galilee, faithful to the Unseen One, if you embraced the pierced feet of Christ God resurrected, Rome was like a prison, an abomination that sought to destroy everything in its path.
Birds singing in branches of the roadside olive trees and cypruses, grasses and flowers in the fields, and even the flagstones of Via Appia spoke to St. Peter of God, while the city of Rome did not.
Peter must have felt peace growing in his heart with every step that put distance between him and the city of violence and idols. Then he saw the Light and Christ. Quo Vadis, Domine? Where are you going, O Lord?
Hearing the answer that no one else could hear, Peter obediently turned and walked back, retracing his steps along the Via Appia. The birds kept singing.
He was coming back to Rome now, to that sinful, unclean, pagan, dangerous city that had to be saved because God loves the sinful, the pagan and the dangerous, and he wants them to become holy and pure. At any cost.
Rome, the capital of sin, was to become the capital of Christendom, the Holy City. Peter was to become the rock of the Church.
Peter's steps were now taking him closer and closer to his death on the cross and hasty burial near the Circus of Nero. He must have known that.
Yet the sudden joy of forthcoming martyrdom, in itself the gift of the Holy Spirit, filled his heart and blessed his movements with youthful lightness. True love for God is always rejuvenating.
Somewhere in Rome, another man, later called the Apostle of the Gentiles, was preparing for arrest and death, as he was writing on a sheet of papyrus: "I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand."
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