This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. Through them, Christ’s power and mission continue in two important ways. First, through Peter and the Apostles, we can be confident that the sacramental life of the Church is rooted in the very words and power of Christ himself. My own priesthood is anchored in the fact that Bishop Vigneron, who laid hands on me, had hands laid on him in a unbroken succession that can be historically traced all the way back to the Apostles. When those in Holy Orders baptize, it is Christ himself who baptizes. When the priest absolves in the confessional, it is Christ who absolves, just as He forgave Peter for his three-fold denial. When oils are used for anointing the sick, it is Christ’s Spirit who touches both body and soul. Peter’s office as the Vicar of Christ ensures that the Church’s sacraments are not simply the continuation of ancient rituals and pageantry. Through the office of St. Peter, Christ heals, absolves and becomes present to us.
Second, St. Paul established the evangelical life of the Church though his preaching and ministry. St. Paul’s life and mission are characterized by Christ’s final words “to preach the Gospel to all nations.” His divinely inspired letters reveal that the gifts of the Holy Spirit enliven the various communities which he established. St. Paul’s faithfulness in preaching the Gospel animates and inspires missionaries and disciples who carry Christ’s message to the ends of the earth. Whereas St. Peter ensures that the Christ continues to nourish the Church through the sacraments, St. Paul gives the evangelical and missionary direction to the Church itself. The Church is not simply a club, no matter how holy, but the living Body of Christ meant to share the good news to all. Through Sts. Peter and Paul, Christ’s ministry and message live.
For us at St. Dominic’s, this Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul is celebrated in the context of our novena to St. Peregrine. Born in Forli, Italy in 1265, St. Peregrine grew up in a city and family culture that had rejected the primacy of the Pope and the validity of the sacraments. When the Pope sent St. Phillip Benizi to be an ambassador for peace and reconciliation, Peregrine took to the streets to protest and heckle his preaching. In fact, during St. Phillip’s homily, Peregrine viciously struck him square in the face. What happened next changed Peregrine forever. Instead of a sharp word or violent response, St. Phillip literally turned his other check. Overcome with remorse, Peregrine abandoned his anger and was so inspired by the life of St. Phillip that he became a brother in his congregation. Peregrine worked to establish peace and reconciliation at a social and political level, but found his energies better served in direct care for the poor, neglected and infirmed. During the course of his ministry to the sick, he developed a cancer in his leg, which ultimately needed to be amputated. The night before the surgery, he spent the night in the hospital chapel in prayer before the crucifix. Falling asleep, he had a dream that Christ came down from the cross, touched his cancerous leg and restored him to perfect health. Awaking, Peregrine discovered his dream was a reality: he was healed! During the next 20 years, St. Peregrine ministered to the sick and was widely known as possessing the gift of healing through his prayers and touch. There are over 300 documented accounts of healing through his direct action. For this reason St. Peregrine is the patron saint of those afflicted with cancer, AIDS and other life-threatening maladies.
The story of St. Peregrine reminds us that when we are connected with the legacies of Sts. Peter and Paul through the sacraments and the evangelical life of the Spirit through the Church, Christ comes alive in and through us. In honor of St. Peregrine, this Monday we will celebrate the sacrament of the sick at the conclusion of the novena Masses. This sacrament is an extension of the healing ministry of Christ himself, and so I invite those who are in need of healing (in body, mind or spirit) to come and be anointed by the salve of salvation. Christ meets us in the midst of our suffering to bring comfort, peace, and encouragement. Through the intercession of St. Peregrine, may Christ work powerfully in the lives of all in need here at St. Dominic’s.
~Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.