The first reading at the Mass during the day on Sunday, the feast of Ss Peter and Paul, came from the Acts of the Apostles.
It recounted the story of an early persecution and a miraculous liberation.
King Herod started persecuting certain members of the Church. He beheaded James the brother of John, and when he saw that this pleased the Jews he decided to arrest Peter as well. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread, and he put Peter in prison, assigning four squads of four soldiers each to guard him in turns. Herod meant to try Peter in public after the end of Passover week. All the time Peter was under guard the Church prayed to God for him unremittingly.
On the night before Herod was to try him, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, fastened with double chains, while guards kept watch at the main entrance to the prison. Then suddenly the angel of the Lord stood there, and the cell was filled with light. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him. ‘Get up!’ he said ‘Hurry!’ – and the chains fell from his hands. The angel then said, ‘Put on your belt and sandals.’ After he had done this, the angel next said, ‘Wrap your cloak round you and follow me.’ Peter followed him, but had no idea that what the angel did was all happening in reality; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed through two guard posts one after the other, and reached the iron gate leading to the city. This opened of its own accord; they went through it and had walked the whole length of one street when suddenly the angel left him.
It was only then that Peter came to himself. ‘Now I know it is all true’ he said. ‘The Lord really did send his angel and has saved me from Herod and from all that the Jewish people were so certain would happen to me.’
The story has a fresh poignancy as we recognise in the persecution of 2000 years ago, elements of the horrors faced by Christians and others in these days too.
Freedom comes in a variety of forms, but fundamentally it is the ability to be oneself, to fill that space that you are created to fill, however cramped, however cruelly circumscribed.
The challenge to Peter, freed from prison, was could he be free in his liberation from prison to live free from sin, free for Christ.
The same challenge is ours!
Liberation of St Peter. Painting in San Pietro in Vinculo, Rome. (c) 2014, Allen Morris