Reading the Acts of the Apostles
with Michael Rubbelke
Director of Adult Faith Formation
 You Will Be
My Witness

PETER AND PAUL,
PILLARS OF THE CHURCH
 (Acts 9:31-15:35)
The Church is grounded upon the witness of the Apostles. Among these, none can compare to Peter and Paul, whose feast we celebrated on June 29. The Eucharistic Preface that we pray during that Mass beautifully describes their complementary missions: “Peter, who established the early Church from the remnant of Israel; Paul, master and teacher of the Gentiles that you call […] each in a different way gathered together the one family of Christ.” These pillars of the Church were extremely different, yet they were united in embracing Christ’s call and letting His arms reach the ends of the earth.

These readings mark a major scene change in the Acts of the Apostles. Up to this point, Peter has been the central character, preaching to “the remnant of Israel,” and Jerusalem has been the central location. From Acts 16 forward, Luke will focus almost entirely on Paul and his missionary journeys as the “master and teacher of the Gentiles,” that is, the non-Jews.

What sparks this change? 
First, Peter witnesses “the Gentile Pentecost” in Acts 10, when he encounters Cornelius, a “God-fearing” Roman centurion (Acts 10:2). Though Cornelius did not observe dietary laws and was uncircumcised (i.e. not Jewish), he believed in Israel’s God and worshipped in the synagogue. As Peter preaches the Gospel to Cornelius and his household, the Holy Spirit descends upon these Gentiles, who began “speaking in tongues and glorifying God,” just as the Apostles did at Pentecost (Acts 10:46; cf. Acts 2:4, 11). This occurs even before they are baptized!

The early Church begins to understand that the Gospel is not only for the Jewish people. Rather, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too” (Acts 11:18). Non-Jews must be included in the Church’s mission.

On his first missionary journey with Barnabas (Acts 12:25-14:28), Paul experiences this turn to the Gentiles. While those in the synagogues often reject Paul’s preaching (cf. Acts 13:45), the non-Jewish people receive it with joy (cf. Acts 13:48). This wonderful reception also leads to some comic misunderstandings. One of Paul’s miraculous healings leads his pagan audience to worship him as the Greek god, Hermes (Acts 14:11-13). Nobody said it was going to be easy to preach Christ to the Gentiles! Yet this is the unlikely group to whom the Spirit “opened the door of faith” through Paul (Acts 14:27).

As Paul’s success becomes well known, the early Church faces a very difficult decision: how much of Israel’s law should Gentiles observe to follow Christ? Specifically, do they have to be circumcised? The problem is brought to “the apostles and the presbyters” to solve, just as we appeal to the Successor of Peter (the Pope) and the successors of the Apostles (the bishops) today (Acts 15:6).
Under Peter’s guidance, the apostles conclude that the Gentiles can be received as they are, only observing those aspects of Israel’s law which applied to non-Jews. This is a landmark decision: the Spirit of Jesus sends His Apostles to bring the Gentiles in to the people of God, just as they are. In this final scene with Peter, we see his unique role, authoritatively connecting God’s designs in Israel with the Church’s experience (Acts 15:7-11). We see Paul’s complementary role--his total commitment to mission--being opened by Peter’s authority and driving him “to the ends of the earth,” just as Jesus had promised (Acts 1:8).

In celebrating Saints Peter and Paul, we can praise God that grace uses our differences to build up the Body of Christ. Our gifts, preferences, and experiences may be very different, but they all belong to Christ, bringing His salvation to ever-new and unexpected places. Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us!
Pray
from the Collect of the Vigil Mass of Saints Peter and Paul
Grant, we pray,
O Lord our God,
that we may be sustained
by the intercession of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul,
that, as through them you gave your Church
the foundations of
her heavenly office,
so through them you may help her to eternal salvation.
Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.
Reflect

What gifts has God given uniquely to you in order to witness to Him? What gifts have you seen in others that are different from yours?

How can these different gifts be a source of grace instead of a threat?

Who has unexpectedly shown you the power of the Holy Spirit?
Act

Especially in these polarized times, Jesus comes to unite all of us in His Mystical Body. Take ten minutes to pray for someone with whom you disagree. Ask the Lord to help you see this person’s gifts, to understand what unites you, and to bind you together more closely in His love.

Ask the Lord to point out someone who needs Him. Find an opportunity to pray for and with (if possible) this person sometime this week.

Take Pope Francis’s homily for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul as your spiritual reading. Reflect on how the Lord is inviting you to work and pray for unity and prophecy.

Saint Pius X Catholic Parish, dedicated to renewing all things in Christ, is committed to evangelization through prayer, service, sacrificial giving, faith formation, and community.
Saint Pius X Catholic Church | 574.272.8462 | kmauch@stpius.net | StPius.net