As members of the Roman Rite, this feast is of great importance. Our Catholic tradition teaches us that the two primary men in the founding and establishing of the Church of Rome were Peter and Paul. Peter started the Church, and Paul strengthened her. Furthermore, as St. Irenaeus teaches us:
But inasmuch as it would be very tedious in a book like this to rehearse the lines of succession in every church, we will put to confusion all those who, either from waywardness or conceit or blindness or obstinacy combine together against the truth, by pointing to the tradition, derived from the Apostles, of that great and illustrious Church founded and organized at Rome by the two glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, and to the faith declared to mankind and handed down to our own time through its bishops in their succession. For with this Church, because of its more powerful leadership, every church, that is to say, the faithful from everywhere, must needs agree, and in it the tradition that springs from the Apostles has been continuously preserved by men from everywhere....Through their double martyrdom, it is said that their very blood consecrated this Church to be something special. The Romans thought they had struck a victory in killing the two greatest men of the Early Church. Instead, their very blood transformed that small Christian community into the very center of Christianity which exists to this very day. We learn in today's liturgy of the greatness of these two men, and by extension of our beloved Church of Rome.
Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from all that the Jewish people were expecting. Ps. 138:1-2. O Lord, You have proved me and You know me; You know when I sit and when I stand. (Introit)We read the extended version of this story in the Epistle. We learn that Herod, seeking favor with the Jews, imprisoned St. Peter. Yet during this imprisonment, God miraculously freed St. Peter. He had a special mission for this great saint, and no man would interfere with it. If anything, just as with St. Paul, mans interference would lead to even more opportunities to spread the Gospel. Likewise for us, men will seek to interfere with our living of the Catholic life.
When one reflects on everything in the world today, we should certainly be able to identify with the trials and tribulations of these two saints. The evil one sets up stumbling blocks at every corner. While we may not be physically imprisoned, the evil one seeks to keep us enslaved to sin. The people of this world always look to mock the Catholic Church, since this will always receive the favor of those opposed to her. It has been said that Anti-Catholicism is "the last acceptable prejudice" in the words of Dr. Phillip Jenkins. There was really no reason for Herod to imprison the Apostles. They were not involved in a political agenda against him. Yet he saw that he could gain favor by imprisoning him.
Like Sts. Peter and Paul, God will also provide us with the same deliverance He gave them. It might not be with an earthquake or a loud booming voice, but there is deliverance nonetheless. For those who trust in His mercy, we can know for sure that God will send His angel to defend His Church.
We see here in the Gospel why God will send us His deliverance. God acts for the protection of His chosen people. He certainly does not act for St. Peter or St. Paul due to anything they themselves have done. In this very passage, Peter sets himself up as an adversary to Christ, trying to prevent Him from going to the Cross. He later denies Christ three times. St. Paul was the Churches biggest persecutor. Yet God still acted to save these men. He did so not for their own sake, but for His. They were given a mission, and He would see to it they were able to complete it.At that time, Jesus came into the quarters of Cesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: "Whom do men say that the Son of man is?" But they said: "Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets." Jesus saith to them:"But whom do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answering said to him: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven." (Gospel, Matthew 16:13-19)
We also see in the confession of Peter the very source of the entire Christian faith. Promised such protection, we may indeed proclaim with Peter the identity of Christ. When Christ asked who the people said He was, notice they got it wrong. The world always looks for the Messiah, yet on their own terms. It is only through Peter and the Apostles with him that the truth of Christ is given to the world. This truth had St. Paul as its champion. May we through their glorious intercession likewise proclaim to God and the world "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God."