Frances writes on the readings for the Vigil of SS.Peter & Paul:- These readings are all about life-changing experiences. How this happens to some of us, and the effect we can then have on others, changing their lives forever. It involves being awake, receptive to such offers from God, and allowing ourselves to become vehicles of his grace and change in others. Others indeed will have offers of divine grace and healing made to them, and they in turn will have to be open to God’s call and work in them. Just before Christmas each year, the Divine Office has a reading from St Bernard of Clairvaux, in which he meditates on Our Lady’s answer to God’s call at the Annunciation. Will she respond, and what will happen to a fallen world if she turns her back on the divine plan?
The reading from Acts (3:1-10) recounts the healing miracle worked by Peter and John in the Temple in Jerusalem. They themselves had of course been transformed by their experience of the resurrection of Christ, which had turned them from fearful men – those who believed Christ’s cause completely lost – to active agents in the spreading of his gospel. They approach a beggar, one accustomed to gain his living at the beautiful gate of the temple. He seems to have had no other vision of life and looked expectantly at them, hoping for the gift of a valued coin. Imagine then his amazement when this does not come, but instead he is healed and with it the pathway to a totally different life dawns. How will he react? Is his vision of humanity, of the world, big enough to enable him to grasp the initiative and once more join the productive society? We are not told any of the answers here, but left to meditate on the astounding change wrought by God through his apostles, and invited to travel this route with them. The fact that the man’s joy is recorded bodes well for the new life he can seize upon when he is no longer simply a victim of circumstances and can act independently at last. Similarly, we have to consider the response of the onlookers, described as astonished and unable to explain the miracle.
Our reading from Galatians (1:11-20) similarly speaks of a shattering shift in focus. Paul was born a Jew, into a line of Pharisees- those rigorous for following the minutiae of the law – and as part of his utter conviction that his way was right he persecuted Jews who followed Christ until the extraordinary experience he had on the Damascus road changed his life forever. Our excerpt speaks of his subsequent behaviour, with its emphasis that he avoided any return to Jerusalem and its hard-line Judaism. Indeed, from his description, Paul went off to ‘Arabia’- a pagan province of the Roman Empire – and from there he must have gained instruction in the Christian faith and then went off on the first of his missionary trips which included proselytising in Galatia to pagans. We just take all this for granted, but when we stop to think about it we see the enormity of the shift in the life of Paul the Pharisee. In effect, as we see from his letters, his total reliance on the Jewish law is set aside as he lives out the new Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Son of God and our only redeemer. His entire way of living would have been changed, as he lived and ate with pagan converts to the new faith, something defiling and unthinkable in Judaism, and he gives up his respected and secure life in Jerusalem for the uncertainty of the travelling salesman for Christ, totally at the mercy of others, often persecuted and in danger of death. We too need to recognise these life-threatening and life-changing moments in our own lives and grasp them when they come to us just as Paul and Peter did.
In our Gospel (John 21:15-19) we meet our final life changing incident, where the resurrected Jesus meets the disciples at the Sea of Galilee and eats with them – that ultimate mark of friendship – and in it remakes or remoulds Peter, the Peter who had failed him and denied ever knowing him at the passion. Imagine what a tense situation this would have been with the world of knowing between the two. Jesus, who had predicted Peter’s denial, and Peter who had been so certain that he would stand by his friend only to reject him at the fatal moment. Never mind the others who behaved similarly, never mind our knowledge of his human frailty, let’s focus on the intense moment in which these two met once more and Our Lord’s testing “Simon, do you love me?” “Feed my sheep”. Within this three fold questioning and answering there surely lies a profound knowing of each other, an openness and transparency to the truth in which Peter’s heart and mind are searched, known and accepted. This time he will not, cannot, renege on his recognition of the truth.
Let’s think of those life –changing moments we have experienced and how they have changed our lives and those of others we have met. Like Peter, we may have found some of those incidents profoundly uncomfortable, but they will have been necessary and of infinite value.