One of the biggest criticisms that I have of God is this: He really doesn’t know how to pick good disciples.
Take St. Peter. He is bold. Impulsive. Has way too much bravado. Jesus tells him repeatedly that a Christian ought to pick up his cross and follow after Jesus, and what does Peter do? Instead of picking up his cross and following after Jesus — literally! — when Jesus is about to be crucified, he denies Jesus three times.
Then, after the Resurrection, Jesus asks Peter repeatedly whether Peter loves Him. But, not just love… agape love. Sacrificial love. Does Peter love Jesus enough to sacrifice himself? And, what does Peter respond? Peter claims to love Jesus… as a friend.
And, yet, Jesus Himself picks St. Peter as the first pope.
Then there’s St. Paul. Honestly, this was probably one of His worst choices of all time. Before his conversion, St. Paul, then called Saul, did his best to destroy Christianity by taking out its members and either throwing them in prison or stoning them. He was there for the martyrdom of St. Stephen, even!
Yet, it was not the senseless persecuting and killing of the early Christians that changed St. Paul’s heart. Hardly! God Himself had to take down Saul by striking him down, asking Saul why he was persecuting Him, and then blinding him. And, the only way that Saul could restore his vision? By going to the Christians — who were doing their best to hide from him — and ask to be healed.
As you can imagine, the Christians were very much skeptical of him when he first approached them!
And yet, God calls St. Paul to help lead the Church in an absolutely pivotal role as a missionary.
These two people were probably the worst choices ever to have lead this fledging church. St. Peter was flighty and scared — a bad combination for a church leader, as the Church would face extreme persecution in its earliest days. And St. Paul would have happily destroyed the Church, were it not for God stepping in.
And yet, today, we celebrate these saints in their feast day for building up the foundation of the Church. Here’s a picture of them together:
In the middle, Mary (who often symbolizes the Church) holds Jesus in her lap and stares at Him adoringly. They sit on a platform of stone, which is probably supposed to symbolize the foundation of the Church. Behind Mary and Jesus is a cave, which indicates both the place of Jesus’s birth (which was probably in a cave, since caves were commonly used as stables) and of His Resurrection, in which His tomb was likely in a cave. There, St. Peter stands to the right of Jesus and St. Paul to the left, indicating that they were absolutely essential to the making of the Church.
Jesus, looking lovingly at Mary, leans over to St. Peter and hands him the keys to the Church, signifying that St. Peter is to be the first pope. Peter is also standing on a block, which is a symbolism of the name which Jesus gives him, Peter, which means “Rock.” He is also holding a closed book, indicating his contribution with scripture and his part in contributing to it.
Then, to the left, St. Paul stands. He carries a sword, which is both symbolic of his role before he converted to Christianity and of his role afterwards in which he was a staunch (yet peaceful) defender of the faith. He carries an open book, which symbolizes his unique and prolific contribution to scripture.
Now, if it were up to me, I would not pick these men to fill the positions that they did in the Church. Those positions were just too important to be given to such blatant and miserable sinners. Thank God, it was not up to me! God knew something about these men that I did not. Where I would have just seen failure, God saw strength. And God was right. After more than 2000 years, the Church still stands, partly thanks to the contributions of these men.
Yet, as we celebrate them on their feast day, we should recognize that we too are called to be saints and to contribute to the Church using our own various talents and abilities. And this can be terrifying — after all, who are we to be able to contribute to such an awesome legacy? Especially when we sin and fail countless times throughout the course of a mere day!
Yet, we should recognize that, just as we often only see our failures, God can see strength. Just as He called St. Peter and St. Paul, despite their numerous shortcomings, so He too calls us. May we listen to these calls!
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us!