The first reading at the Mass during the day on Sunday, the feast of Ss Peter and Paul, comes from the Church’s Easter book, Acts of the Apostles. Like the season, this reading proclaims the gift of freedom.
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.’
In our devotion we often venerate images of St Peter which are hieratic or imperious. Such as the obviously much love figure photographed at the head of this blog.
Yet the Peter of the Gospels and the Peter of Acts is so different to that. Weak, fallible – in himself, vulnerable.
In the scriptures, mostly we see Peter struggling towards a complete reliance on God, from whom his strength and safety come. There are many times in his story when he realises ‘it is true’ but then fails to live to that recognition.
Us too, probably.
St Peter, pray for us.
And us, let us pray with St Peter and learn from his example, so generously shared with us.
Statue of St Peter, Dominican Priory, Haverstock Hill. (c) 2009, Allen Morris