Each year on this Solemnity of the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul my memories take me back to a former life in which part of my job included the recruitment and selection of new staff and officers for the City of Bradford Metropolitan Council. And I wonder if Our Lord had recruited his Apostles in the way many firms and businesses recruit their employees today, would Saint Peter and Saint Paul have been selected for the two top jobs in the Church. Would they even have made the shortlist?
It’s true that Simon Peter had the qualities of a natural leader. He was a man of action; he was self-confident and enthusiastic, even daring and outgoing. And yet on the other hand, he could be impulsive, imprudent, and erratic. In today’s gospel we witness one of Peter’s more shining moments when he confesses Our Lord to be “the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. And yet only six short verses later, he expresses such opposition to God’s plans that Our Lord calls him not “a rock” but “an obstacle”.
And was Saul any more promising when the risen Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus? This young man surely stood out for his fervour, his learning, and his single-minded commitment to the job in hand. But he was using all his talents to destroy the Church, even though his former teacher, the respected Rabbi Gamaliel, had urged a wait-and-see approach. But Saul was too zealous and too full of fire to follow such prudent advice. He was dedicated and effective in rounding up all those who didn’t follow the party line. But the achievements on Saul’s résumé fit the job description of a persecutor, not an apostle.
Our Lord never needed a personnel advisor to inform him about which workers to select. Our Lord understood human nature all too well; he could see the capacity for heroic holiness that lies hidden beneath a person’s exterior strengths and weaknesses. Our Lord saw that potential in both Peter and Paul and he took a risk in choosing them. Yes, Peter wavered in his conviction and went on to deny even knowing Our Lord, not just once but three times. And as for Paul, who would have guessed that someone who was so unswervingly headed in one direction could do a complete turnaround? Yet in the end, both men accepted the grace of conversion and became the dedicated apostles Our Lord knew they could be.
in just the same way, Our Lord sees the potential in each of us as well. Every moment of every day, Our Lord calls us to follow him. Given our many weakness and failings we can only take the apostles Peter and Paul as our examples and models – like them we must have the humility and the generosity of spirit to accept Our Lord’s call to follow, and then allow his grace to make up what is lacking in our response.
Saint Peter and Saint Paul, pray for us.