We hear in the first reading how the Apostles
began to be martyred for Christ.
James is first. Then Peter is arrested.
But Peter’s turn hadn’t come yet—
it would come 20 years later, in about AD 65, in Rome.
The second reading describes Paul, 20 years later,
ready for that martyrdom.
Both died in Rome, about the same time,
as evidenced by their bones
both being in Rome, to this day.
Pope Benedict has asked that during the coming year,
we have a “Year of Saint Paul,”
so we can learn more from Paul.
The other priests and I will try to do that
with our homilies.
In a few weeks, the Wednesday evening Bible study
will start the Book of Acts;
after that, we’ll look at one of Paul’s letters.
In the meantime, you and I have
the successor of Saint Peter in our midst—the pope.
We Catholics may not fully realize what a blessing
it is even to have a pope; we can see it
when we notice what other Christians go through.
The Orthodox Churches believe essentially what we do.
But over the years,
Orthodox and Catholic have drifted apart.
In recent years, the popes have tried to bridge the gap;
but part of the problem is no one person
can bring all the Orthodox together.
The Anglican Church, or as we call it,
the Episcopal Church,
was once in union with the Church of Rome.
Until around 1970, there was great hope
that we would come back together.
Then the Anglican Church
started ordaining women as priests;
and in recent years, an actively gay bishop was ordained;
and parts of the Anglican Church
are moving toward so-called gay marriage.
Many urge the Catholic Church to go the same route.
But the Anglican Church is being ripped apart
by these things, not to mention the problem
that none of this has anything to do with
what the Apostles taught and died for!
In our Creed, we profess
“one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”
It means we understand the Church
to built on the Apostles, to be faithful to their teaching,
and that our sacramental life has its origins
in the priesthood that began with them.
Their teaching comes from Christ,
with whom they lived and walked,
and for whom they readily died.
The Lord chose to make the Apostles—
Peter first of all—the foundation of his Church.
But consider, he could have done it otherwise;
he could have said, I’ll build my Church on the Bible,
or, even, “I will build my Church on myself.”
That tells us something important.
It tells us how the new life Christ came to give
would be shared.
It’s not a matter of ideas; it’s not like joining a club.
It’s not even a matter of a one-time conversion.
No, the Church—
including our branch, which began in Rome—
is people being changed by Christ,
not a one-time change, but a life-long change.
We become sharers of a new life,
and we share it as a community of believers.
We become citizens of a Kingdom
that transcends the limits of this world,
the Kingdom of Heaven.
That is how we Christians can dare
to suffer and die for Christ.
Notice, Saint Luke, the author of Acts, tells us,
“it was the Feast of Unleavened Bread.”
That’s also Passover; that’s when the Lord was crucified.
So when James was killed and Peter was arrested,
the Apostles must have said,
“yes, it was at this time that it all happened…”
We think of the Eucharist; and it shows us
what it means to be a Christian, an Apostle, and a Martyr:
we share in the death and resurrection of the Lord.
This is what we call “the Mystery of Faith”—
we proclaim it together, right in the middle of Mass.
It’s what it means to be a Christian.
It’s why we come to Mass.
When we share the Eucharist, along with the Apostles,
all the saints and martyrs before us,
and all those facing martyrdom to this very day,
we embrace this Mystery of Faith:
to share his death and resurrection.
The Mass is our Feast of the Unleavened Bread:
the Body and Blood of Christ,
broken and poured out for us;
and we, like James, Peter and Paul,
are ready to share it to the full.
When you and I choose to take the Eucharist,
that’s what we say “Amen” to.
Peter was ready, so was Paul,
so are all the Lord’s followers…
and so are we.