Today, 29th June, is the Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul. We celebrate not only their feast, but also the birthday of the Holy Roman Church, which together they founded by their word, the works, and by their blood.
St. Peter, who is also known as Simon, was the son of John of Bethsaida. Together with his brother, St. Andrew the Apostle, St. Peter was a fisherman (probably illiterate) who spent his days in his boat with his father and brother on the Sea of Galilee. When Our Lord called him and his brother, they left their nets and boats, and were joined to the Apostolic College. At Caesarea Philippi, Our Lord promised to build the Church on St. Peter and to give him supreme authority over the whole Church. During his life, St. Peter was often rash and quick to act and speak, which often led him to trouble. At the Passion of Our Lord, as Christ had prophesied, the Apostle thrice denied the Saviour, for which he bitterly repented and wept over. According to tradition, his cheeks forever bore the signs of his prolonged weeping. Later on, after His Resurrection, Christ conferred His Authority upon St. Peter, and made him His Vicar on earth and the Prince of the Apostles. St. Peter first fixed his See at Antioch, before transferring it and fixing it at Rome, becoming her first Bishop. He spent 25 years in Rome, founding the Roman Church and preaching the Gospel. Two of his Epistles were joined to the Canon of Scripture. He was sentenced to death by crucifixion by the Emperor Nero. He was led to the Circus Nero, located outside the ancient city walls on Vatican Hill, and at his request he was crucified upside down, since he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as his Master. His blood consecrated the City of Rome to the Lord, and made her the spiritual capital of the world. His body was later buried on Vatican Hill, over which, in the 4th Century, Constantine the Great would later build a great Basilica in Peter's honour. This ancient structure stood until the 16th Century when, due to its great age, it was pulled down and replaced by the current St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. St. Peter's relics rest under the Basilica, so that the words of Our Lord would be literally fulfilled, namely, that upon Peter the Church would be built. His physical appearance is described as having: a strong, roundish head, prominent jaw-bones, a receding forehead, thick, curly hair and beard.
St. Paul began life as Saul of Tarsus, a city in Asia Minor (Turkey). He was schooled in the Pharasaical tradition, and became somewhat a fanatic. This led him to heavily, and violently, persecuted the Early Church. He was present at the stoning of the Church's first martyr, St. Stephen. He made a name for himself hunting Christians. Whilst travelling on the road to Damascus, again to persecute Christians, the Lord appeared to him to end Saul's persecution. This encounter with Christ led Saul to convert to the Catholic Faith. He fled into the Arabian desert for many years, after which he returned to Jerusalem to see St. Peter. He recounted his story to Peter, who no doubt baptised Saul, and then conferred priestly and episcopal authority on Saul, and grafted into the Apostolic College. Saul later changed his name to Paul, since his principal missions were to the Greek speaking Gentiles of the East. He established many Sees in the East, many of which still exist today. Fourteen of his Epistles were added to the Canon of Scripture by the Church. He was many times persecuted by both pagan and Jewish authorities. Although he was a prolific preacher of the Faith, he is believed to not have been a good public orator for whatever reason. he later removed himself to Rome, to join St. Peter in building up the Roman Church. Whilst there, Paul was imprisoned several times. Eventually, like St. Peter, Paul was condemned to death by Nero. Since he was a Roman citizen, he would be beheaded. According to tradition, Peter and Paul embraced each other and blessed one another when the day of their executions came round. Though they had often disagreed with one another, yet they embraced one another a most beloved brothers in Christ. Whilst Peter was sent off to Vatican Hill to be crucified, Paul to taken to another place and beheaded. His body was moved two miles from the execution site and buried. Later, Constantine the Great erected a Church over the site, and this was enlarged by Emperor Theodosius I. It stands today and is known as St. Paul Outside the Walls. St. Paul is described by the Catholic Encyclopaedia as: short of stature; the Pseudo-Chrysostom calls him "the man of three cubits" (anthropos tripechys) [or four foot six inches, a small man indeed!]; he was broad-shouldered, somewhat bald, with slightly aquiline nose, closely-knit eyebrows, thick, greyish beard, fair complexion, and a pleasing and affable manner. He was afflicted with a malady which is difficult to diagnose (cf. Menzies, "St. Paul's Infirmity" in the Expository Times", July and Sept., 1904), but despite this painful and humiliating infirmity (II Cor., xii, 7-9; Gal., iv, 13-14) and although his bearing was not impressive (II Cor., x, 10), Paul must undoubtedly have been possessed of great physical strength to have sustained so long such superhuman labours (II Cor., xi, 23-29). Pseudo-Chrysostom, "In princip. apostol. Petrum et Paulum" (in P. G., LIX, 494-95), considers that he died at the age of sixty-eight after having served the Lord for thirty-five years.
May SS. Peter and Paul, glorious Princes of the Apostles, intercede for Holy Mother Church at this time when She is so assailed by the powers of Hell. May they secure for Her liberty and salvation, and may their voices once more ring out from Rome to enlighten the hearts and minds of ignorant men.
Ss. Peter and Paul, pray for us!