A couple days ago, we celebrated the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. They were two different men with different personalities, yet both encountered Jesus and dedicated their entire lives to him.
Peter was a man who understood the depth of his sin, was attentive to the voice of God and the inspirations of the Spirit. He was a man who wept and repented immediately when he failed, was somewhat primary in his words, but could also be bold when empowered by the Spirit in proclaiming the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.
Paul’s energy level and courage were extraordinary. He was fearless as he was more aware of God’s power working in and through him rather than of his limits. He was less cautious than Peter, but not imprudent. He was able to confront those in authority (Galatians 2:11-21), but could also submit to them for the good of the local Church (Acts 21:22-26). Paul, we know, was difficult to get along with and was constantly on the move.
Peter’s message was simple and straightforward: to the Jews he proclaimed that God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead and made him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22-36); to the gentiles he proclaimed that Jesus will judge the living and the dead and that he who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43). His straightforward style differs from Paul, who meditated and wrote at length on the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, between the Old Law and the New. Paul approached the argument from different angles and builds up his case in an articulate way. Peter is aware of Paul’s more difficult style and even wrote to other Christians that some of the things that Paul writes are hart to understand (2 Peter 3:16).
Today we celebrate a third Apostle, Saint Thomas the Twin, whom Fulton J. Sheen characterized as always looking on the darker side of things: “When the news came to Our Lord about the death of Lazarus, Thomas wanted to go and to die with him. Later on, when Our Blessed Lord said that He would return again to the Father and prepare a place for His Apostles, Thomas’ doleful answer was that he knew not where the Lord was going, nor did he himself know the way. […] His refusal to trust the testimony of ten competent companions, who had seen the Risen Christ with their own eyes, proved how skeptical was the gloomy man” (F. Sheen, Life of Christ, Image Books, 422).
Pope Benedict sees other dimensions of Thomas’ actions in the Gospel: his desire to stand by Jesus and share with Christ the supreme trial of death; his request for understanding in dialogue with Jesus; his conviction that after his death and resurrection Jesus is recognized by his wounds rather than by his face; his profound acknowledgment of Jesus’ divinity. He concludes that “the Apostle Thomas’ case is important to us for at least three reasons: first, because it comforts us in our insecurity; second, because it shows us that every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty; and, lastly, because the words that Jesus addressed to him remind us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourage us to persevere, despite the difficulty, along our journey of adhesion to him” (Pope Benedict XVI, 27 September 2006).
Our temperaments, characters, and personalities all differ. Some of us are like Peter – sentimental, attentive to the needs of others, cautious at times, but not timid -; some of us are like Paul – passionate, demanding with others, bold, but not imprudent-; and some of us are like Thomas – realistic about life, eager to experience things first-hand, insecure at times, yet capable of profound thoughts and acts of heroism. In spite of their differences, all three became great saints: they united themselves to God through Jesus Christ and sought to bring others into God’s family. They placed their talents and gifts at the service of the community and of the Gospel: Peter stayed in or near Jerusalem most of his life and ministered to Jewish Christians, Paul went West and ministered to the Gentiles of the Roman Empire, Thomas went East and spread the Gospel to Syria, Persia, Western India, and even reached Southern India.
All of us are encouraged by the saints and challenged by them: their lives are “standards, living points of reference to what it means to give glory to God, to do the will of the Father, and to be like Christ” (P. O’Callaghan, Christ Our Hope, CUA Press, 146).
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].