Martyrs Peter and Paul set example that challenges faithful

By Canon Philip Gillespie

Through the Easter Season we read from the Acts of the Apostles of the importance of Jerusalem. It is the place where Jesus eats the Last Supper, and where "he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried".

It is also the place which, crucially, sees the discovery of the empty tomb on Easter Day and is the first place to hear that proclamation which echoes down through the centuries: "He is no longer here; he is Risen." Repentance for the forgiveness of sins is preached to the whole world "beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47) and that preaching continues to this day. Jerusalem, and the Holy Land, is at the heart of our understanding of who we are as followers of the way of Jesus; this is why it is so heart-rending to see the place on Earth which witnessed the Lord's suffering, death and resurrection in such a state of war and conflict.

And yet we are known as Roman Catholic, not Jerusalem Catholic. Why is this? It was in Rome that two great figures of the early Church, Peter and Paul, gave their lives in witness to their faith in Jesus, Risen from the dead and faithful to his promise that "I am with you always". They were not the last to shed their blood in profession of their faith, either in that city or indeed in other parts of the then Roman empire. However, these "two princes", Peter and Paul, came to stand for the fidelity of many to their faith – and the price they were called to pay for that faith.

The feast of these two martyrs is kept at the end of June, this year not on the familiar 29th of the month but on the nearest Sunday (28th). It is an opportunity to express our gratitude for the faith that has been handed on to us. It is also a challenge that we may: "preach Thee, too, as love knows how by kindly word and virtuous life".