The Latin verb for handing something on its traducio – from which we get the word Tradition! That term is a very important one for Catholics – it refers to the handing on of the faith in its fullness and the continual openness of the Church to a deeper understanding of that fullness of truth in the dynamic of handing it on and reflecting on it. Tradition is not simply something we receive; it is something we internalize and share, and in the sharing, renew it perpetually for the next generation of believers.
I often think “Tradition” might be better translated in English as a verb rather than a noun. I often speak of “traditioning” the faith. Parents and friends have “traditioned” the faith to us, we are given the mission in our baptism of making sure we take responsibility for “traditioning” or handing it on as a living reality – to others.
Today the church celebrates the faith of Saints Peter and Paul, apostles and martyrs, who were both executed in Rome in the mid first century A.D. as witnesses to the faith.
While Catholics often associate Rome more prominently with the faith of Peter, and the traditional link of Peter in Rome to the legacy and succession of the Bishop of Rome – that is, the Pope – it really is the case that the faith of the Christian community in that city and in the small house churches which emerged throughout the Roman Empire during the late first century is rooted in the witness of these two apostles together.
Both Peter and Paul, and many other apostles and co-workers helped “tradition” the faith during that time of the early church, just as families and friends hand it on today.
That faith which is handed on is not an invitation to an easy path – but it is a faith that can sustain us and motivate us, even in times of great difficulty.
The Gospel from Matthew shows Jesus identifying Simon, son of John, as Peter – as the ‘rock’ on which the Christian community will be built. The name Peter in Greek is Cephas, which means ‘rock.’! (Someone once remarked that Jesus nicknamed Peter ‘Rocky’!)
It is an appropriate name in two ways: Peter’s faith developed over time to be an unshakeable rock and sometimes, Peter could be a bit hard-headed! – disputing with Paul, for example, about whether the non-Jewish Christians needed to observe the Jewish law to be Christians. Peter said yes; Paul said no. Paul won the argument!
How interesting to reflect on the fact that these two early church leaders and apostles didn’t agree on everything!
But Peter was always able to ‘come around’ and to trust in God and in Christ.
In today’s first reading, we see his trust in God as the angel appears and leads him out of a seemingly impossible situation and a likely death sentence at the hand of King Herod Agrippa. Yet it is only afterwards that he recognizes what God has done for him. We can sometimes be like Peter, slow to understand what art that God is weaving in the tapestry of our lives. But once we see with the eyes of faith, we can praise and thank God and hand on that faith – ‘tradition’ it to others.
Paul’s journey was quite different from Peter’s. He originally persecuted the church, and even condoned the stoning to death of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the church.
Paul had a profound and direct encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus as he was preparing to oversee the imprisonment of even more Christians! That experience sent him on a path to becoming the greatest Christian missionary who has ever lived.
We can say without hesitation that Christianity would likely not even exist the way it does today were it not for Paul. We know that, like Peter, Paul was not perfect, and often had a hot-headedness to go with his fiery faith.
Yet God still brought forth good fruit from his work. In his second letter to Timothy – today’s second reading – Paul, having spent some of the last years of his life in house arrest in Rome – writes about his suffering. He doesn’t rejoice in the suffering, but in the fact that God has sustained him through it and in the faith which has sustained him.
It is the faith of Peter and Paul that we most celebrate on this solemnity; the same faith that sustains us and which we strive to ‘tradition’ forward, handing on the living witness of Christ, just as they did.
God give you peace!