Loyal to Christ

Vigil: Acts 3:1-10 • Gal 1:11-20 • Jn 21:15-19 / Day: Acts 12:1-11 • 2 Tm 4:6-8,17-18 • Mt 16:13-19

A man drove through the countryside and, since he was from the city, he was quite taken with the beauty of everything he was seeing. But, neglecting to pay close attention to the curving country road, he drove into a ditch.

Unhurt, the man found a house where he could seek assistance. The driver explained his predicament to the older man who answered the door. The farmer said, “No problem. Dan and I will pull you out.” The city dweller was astonished to see that Dan was a mule, a mule that seemed even older than his owner.

The farmer hooked Dan up to the car and then called out, “Up, Jimmy! Up, Blue! Up, Colonel!” Cracking the reins, he finally called, “Up, Daniel!” and, with a mighty heave, the mule pulled the car right out of the ditch.

The man asked, “Why did you call out all of those other names before calling Dan’s?” “Well, Sir,” the farmer said, “Dan here is near practically blind, but as long as he thinks he’s pulling with a team, he can pull anything.”

Today we celebrate the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, which is always celebrated on June 29. When it falls on a Sunday it outranks the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, which, otherwise, we would have celebrated. We can let the memory of these giants of our faith speak to us of the Lord.

In Rome, a place where few tourists go but which is of great interest is the Mamertine Prison at the edge of the Roman Forum. It is thought that the prison was built to serve as a cistern as it was built over a spring around 4 B.C. The prison is deep, considering its creation as cistern, and it was taken over for use as a holding place for prisoners headed for execution. The prisoners had to be lowered through a hole in the floor from one level to another. The Tullianum, or lower chamber, is described as a horrible dungeon, “repulsive and terrible on account of neglect, dampness and smell.”

The significance of the prison is that tradition says that both Peter and Paul were held in the Tullianum prior to their executions.

Paul probably wrote 2 Timothy during the reign of Nero. Imprisoned twice, Paul first was under house arrest, a privilege given to prisoners of high status. In 2 Timothy, however, Paul was in a dungeon, possibly the Tullianum.

Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy was his last as he was executed shortly after writing it. In his final reflection, Paul refers to his life being poured out like a libation. A libation was usually either blood or wine poured out as part of a ritual sacrifice. Paul, in referring to the ending of his life as “being poured out like a libation,” is identifying himself with the self-sacrifice of Christ.

Referring to his death, Paul’s word choice is interesting. He speaks of the departure of a sailor shoving off for home at the end of war or that of a soldier breaking camp to go home after battle. Paul saw himself going home after waging war for Christ against evil. Paul also says he has “kept the faith,” meaning that he has stayed loyal unto death, and that he “finished the race,” meaning that he has done everything asked of him and, now, all is in God’s hands. There is nothing more Paul can do except trust in God.

The Acts describe Peter’s escape from the prison of Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great. The “great” Herod was hated by the Jews, so Herod Agrippa did many things in an effort to be liked. One thing he did was to give the Jewish leadership a lot of influence. In order to please them, he had thrown Peter into prison and would soon execute him. He could not immediately do so because it was the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This is Passover, and no one could be executed during Passover.

Miraculously Peter was helped by an angel to escape. It had to be a miracle of some sort because Peter was chained to two guards, one on each side, and other guards were at the doors. Like Paul, Peter did nothing of his own accord. He trusted God, and God was the one who released him. (Following this incident, Peter headed to Rome.)

Peter and Paul gave witness to the Faith. They were loyal to Jesus, and they spoke of their love. This love — their preaching — landed them both in prison and led to their deaths. Although they did not always get along, the two men were a team. Trusting in God, even when acting alone, they never felt alone, and they accomplished much.

FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C..