Peter: ‘You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.’ (Matthew 16)
Paul: I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7)
We keep today the Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul. It is counted by the Church as so important a day that it pushes out the normal Sunday. And Peter and Paul are the only Saints - with the exception of Our Lady and St John the Baptist - whose day can take the place of the normal Sunday. And their individual Saints’ days do not have this privilege: only the day in which they are celebrated together.
I guess we can all think of many pairings of people in many different walks of life, who seem more important and indeed greater, when they are together than when they are apart.
Rattling off some of the names from the world of entertainment may bring back happy memories.
Do you remember Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Morecambe and Wise (the greatest!), Mike and Bernie Winters, Fry and Laurie, Smith and Jones, and more recently Ant and Dec …
And not just comedians, but musicians - Simon and Garfunkel, Lennon and McCartney …
Or performers - Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers …
Or fictional characters - Randall and Hopkirk, Cagney and Lacey, Starsky and Hutch
And in sport - Clough and Taylor, Hudson and Greenhoff …
And there are some in public life too … Blair and Brown, perhaps even Cameron and Osborne …
And of course, best of all … Batman and Robin, and … Tom and Jerry
Some of them, as they would say in show business “made it on their own” - but others, probably most, relied upon their partner, their foil - good cop, bad cop - straight man, funny man - each relied on the other. Great they may have been on their own .. But together they excelled.
And in Peter and Paul, so it may seem, the Church has its own Double Act.
Certainly they had important things in common - both were Jews, both ended their lives as martyrs in Rome, both were towering figures for the very first Christians, both stand head and shoulders above other figures in the New Testament, especially in the first book of history of the Church, the Acts of the Apostles. Both were known by a Hebrew and a Greek name - Peter was also known as Simon, Paul also known as Saul. The two names show they both spanned the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds.
Simon’s Greek name, Peter, was given by Christ himself: he is the Rock on which the Church is built. He is its centre. Its source of authority. Its home and its foundation. He is our leader in the faith, chosen by Christ for this vital role.
Paul’s Greek name reminds us that he was the missionary. The convert sent out to convert others. He is the fearless preacher of the Gospel: he brought the call of Christ to the nations and he became the teacher of the world.
Paul was a great writer and a great traveller. While Peter features frequently in the Gospels, and tradition tells us that he was a major source for the Gospel of Mark, he seems to have written very little himself - but Paul wrote most of the books and letters of what we know as the New Testament. He was the greatest missionary of the faith in the first generation of Christianity, and also its greatest teacher and thinker.
The one was a man of stability and leadership, the other a thinker and activist.
They certainly provided complimentary skills and expertise (as people would say nowadays) and indicate to us, even today, different aspects of the work of the Church - both of its ordained ministers and religious, and also of its ordinary members: stability and authority alongside teaching and mission.
A double act? Perhaps - except Peter and Paul never seem to have worked together … and when they did meet it does not seem that they saw eye to eye. There are hints in the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters, that the atmosphere between them could be highly charged.
We remember them together not because they were close in life, not because they shared a deep friendship, nor even a creative working relationship, but because both provided vital and complimentary drive and leadership for the Church in New Testament times; both were unshakeable in their faith in Christ and in his Resurrection from the Dead; both were resolute in their preaching of the Gospel and both were united, finally, in their martyrdom for the Faith.
Saints Peter and Paul - pray for us!