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  • Writer's pictureThe Hermit of Antipolo

Peter and Paul (Holy Warriors Part 69)

Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul

Today’s readings:

Acts 12:1-11

Psalm 34:2-9

2 Timothy 4:6-18

Matthew 16:13-19

“blessed is the stalwart one who takes refuge in him.”

(Psalm 34:9b)

Today we celebrate the feast of two holy warriors, the two pillars of the early Church, Peter and Paul. In the work of worldwide mission, Peter was the apostle to the Jews and Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter was the first Pope, appointed by Jesus, who told him, “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt 16:18a). Paul was the missionary, who said, “through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” (2 Tm 4:17b).

When we do mission, we engage in spiritual war against the forces of darkness and evil. Today, those forces are both out there in the world and also within our Church, which is thus assaulted from without and from within.

The evil forces in the world include state governments. “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them.” (Acts 12:1). Assaults include being put to death. “He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword” (Acts 12:2). This is happening today in some Islamic countries. Assaults include being imprisoned. “He had him taken into custody and put in prison” (Acts 12:4a). This is happening today in some Western nations, where Christians are being imprisoned for their faith, such as those praying outside abortion clinics, those attending worship service in a parking lot even while social distancing, those refusing to do abortions or cater to same-sex couples, and so on.

But the evil forces have also infiltrated our Church. It was the case with Paul then. “Demas, enamored by the present world, deserted me” (2 Tm 4:10a). “Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm; …. for he has strongly resisted our preaching.” (2 Tm 4:14a,15b). It is the case with the Church today. There are those like Demas who have turned away from God and have become co-opted by the world. These include homosexual predator clerics who continue in their positions of authority. There are those like Alexander who continue to preach in the name of God but who are preaching a different gospel, contrary to authentic Catholic teaching. These are clerics and lay leaders who have accepted contraception, embrace of those in irregular unions, LGBT, modernism, and the like.

Worse, it is not just about some errant leaders within the Church, but also about the Church neglecting her mission. Our Church is first and foremost a missionary Church, but today engages in many different aspects of faith but neglects the proclamation of the gospel of salvation in Jesus. Our Church exists to do mission. In this, Jesus has assured us that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18b). Many in the Church, while already having laid down their weapons and surrendered to the culture of the age, find refuge in this, saying that anyway in the end the Church will be victorious. But this misses the point. The Church is not to stop mission and just somehow look to victory at the end. Rather, she is to aggressively assault the gates of the enemy, in which Jesus assures her she will prevail.

So our Church is an army that actively engages the enemy, and Christians are soldiers in that army. We do God’s work and thus engage in spiritual war. As such, we look not to our own strength and resources, but to God’s. A big part of God’s resources are the invisible forces in the heavens. These are the angels.

In the case of the imprisoned Peter, “suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him” (Acts 12:7a) and miraculously got him out of prison. Peter was dazed by it all, but “then Peter recovered his senses and said, ‘Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod’” (Acts 12:11). In the case of Paul, when everyone had deserted him, he said, “But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, …. And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” (2 Tm 4:17a,c). Paul knew God had his back. “the Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom.” (2 Tm 4:18a). Until the very end.

This is the assurance today to God’s holy warriors as well. “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he saves them.” (Ps 34:8).

Now the assurance is for holy warriors, those who engage in the authentic mission of the Church and who are growing in holiness. As such, our relationship with God is crucial. As such, prayer is crucial. This is both personal and communal prayer.

In prayer, we connect with God who sends us forth as His army. We face a powerful and fearful enemy. And so we need to pray, to ask for God’s help and protection. “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, delivered me from all my fears.” (Ps 34:5). In war we will be bruised and bloodied. We will suffer distress. Again we turn to God in prayer. “This poor one cried out and the Lord heard, and from all his distress he saved him.” (Ps 34:7).

But prayer is not just by the individual soldier but also by the whole army, most especially by the community as its support for those on the front lines. “Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.” (Acts 12:5). The war that rages is deadly. The armor of God includes prayer, both personal and intercessory. Thus, on a personal basis, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth.” (Ps 34:2). But also, we pray as a community, as an army. “Magnify the Lord with me; and let us exalt his name together.” (Ps 34:4). All of God’s people should be prayer warriors.

Various nations give awards of honor to military personnel who have distinguished themselves by acts of valor in war. For example, for the USA it is the Medal of Honor, its highest and most prestigious personal military decoration. God also gives an award to His holy warriors who serve valiantly. It is the crown of righteousness. Paul knew what to expect, as he had given his all to the cause of Christ. “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day” (2 Tm 4:8a).

But Paul adds, “and not only for me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” (2 Tm 4:8b). Paul was part of God’s army. He had many comrades-in-arms. We today who are part of God’s army engage in spiritual war in order to help bring back dominion to our God, even as we long for the triumphal return in glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. We too look to receiving the crown of righteousness from our Commander-in-Chief.

Onward holy warriors! HO-WA!

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