Peter, Paul, Rome, and Us

peterpaulEvery year we keep a solemnity in honor of the founders of the church in Rome. Every five or six years, this feast day falls on a Sunday. This year, the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul not only falls on Sunday, it falls on a Sunday during… Well, during two things.

1. Each summer now for three summers, we have prayed and fasted for two weeks, a fortnight. For freedom of religion in America.

The ancient Romans believed supernatural powers upheld their vast empire. The emperor encouraged everyone to believe that he was divine as well as human. And it annoyed him immensely when events occurred that made him look weak in the supernatural department. Things like military defeats. Or like the city of Rome burning down in a massive fire. How to explain such cruel luck when a divine emperor ruled? Well, it must have happened because the Christians refused to offer the customary pagan sacrifices.

One of the great ironies of history: Our ancestors in the faith suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Romans because the Christians had been found guilty of atheism. You won’t offer the traditional Roman sacrifices for the emperor? Then you are an enemy of the state; you hate the human race. Renounce your insane religion and go along with the rest of us. Or die.

Of course, the Apostles Peter and Paul would not renounce Jesus and the God of Israel. They would not compromise in a way in which their Lord never would have—never could have—compromised.

Emperor Nero
Emperor Nero
Now, let’s not denigrate the art of compromise. The art of compromise has kept our country in business for almost 240 years. Many of the leaders we remember as exemplary idealists actually accomplished their great works through their consummate ability to compromise.

For example, plenty of abolitionists regarded Abraham Lincoln as a weak, shilly-shallying joke teller with no backbone. And some of us can remember how plenty of gold-standard conservatives regarded Richard Nixon as a concession-maker and Ronald Reagan as a dangerous technocrat.

The fact is: compromise keeps the peace. But: there are non-negotiables. And one of these non-negotiables must be: Catholics in America have the right to retain our loyalty to the Pope and his teaching. We must be free to listen to the successor of St. Peter, and the bishops in communion with him, when their teaching helps us to distinguish right from wrong.

If Catholics in the United States cannot freely obey the teachings of the Church without fines and reprisals from our government, then someone somewhere has failed to abide by the First Amendment. To say the least.

Now, like I have said during each Fortnight for Freedom so far: We Catholics far prefer to live in a state of peaceful co-existence. The Catholic Church tends to operate like a gentle mother, who tries to avoid fights, rather than like a provocative uncle, who enjoys controversy at family picnics.

So we focus primarily on praying. We pray that those who would infringe on our right to religious freedom would repent. We pray that our enemies might become our friends. We pray that they might find a way to relax, to relent, to take another look at the situation and leave us Catholics to do our thing in peace.

lincoln-readingWhich brings us to the second observance during which we celebrate this Solemnity of the founders of the Roman Church…

2. “Doing our thing” means: the New Evangelization.

Bishop has asked us to embrace this mission–just like Pope Francis, and the past four popes before him, have asked us to embrace it.

St. Peter wrote, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (II Peter 1:16)

St. Paul wrote, “Through Christ we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles.” (Romans 1:5)

Both St. Peter and St. Paul died in the persecution of Nero because their mission of evangelization meant everything. For them, life and evangelization were the same thing.

Now, I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone in the middle of the summer. But let me just give the same guilt trip that St. Ignatius Loyola gives at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises.

We imagine ourselves at the foot of the cross of the crucified Christ. We imagine ourselves there, with our Lady, St. John, and St. Mary Magdalen. We imagine we are right there as He consummates the sacrifice of His innocent life for our salvation.

He has done this for me, for all of us and for each of us. Three simple questions.

What have I done for Him?

What am I doing for Him?

What should I do for Him?

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