When I was a child, my parents periodically received carton boxes full of supplies for our family business. When empty, I had so much fun building “mansions” out of these carton boxes! As I grew up, I learned that one cannot build anything strong out of flimsy materials such as these… but this is not so for God. That’s why I like to picture the Church as an organic, beautiful and spacious spiritual home, built precisely with this flimsy material that on its own cannot produce anything stable, but in the hands of the Divine Master Architect, becomes a magnificent structure of supernatural origin: the Body of Christ.
As we celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, I see these two men as that fragile material out of which the Church arose and was brought to the ends of the earth. One was a simple and cowardly fisherman who denied Jesus three times. The other was a dangerous and arrogant Pharisee who persecuted the Church. Both were fragile sinners in need of repentance and seemingly inadequate material for such a world-changing undertaking, but that is exactly what the Lord needed in order to reveal to us who He is and how much He loves us.
After the Ascension of Jesus, the Apostles, full of joy, yet fearful, returned to Jerusalem, remaining on lockdown in the Upper Room along with Mary and other believers, praying and waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. They would not come out of that room the same. In fact, because of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles emerged strong and decisive. That very day, Peter delivered his first speech with such conviction that some 3,000 persons were cut to the heart and converted, giving rise to the birth of the Church (Acts Ch. 2). Because of this, the words of Jesus, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church. And the powers of Hell will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18) resonate within us and assure us of Peter’s primacy among the Apostles as a ‘pillar’ of the Church, which Jesus will always sustain.
At Pentecost Jesus began to build His Church and it continued to grow. Soon, though, trials, suffering and persecution ensued. Nonetheless, the Lord was in control. In fact, it was while persecuting the early Christians that the second ‘pillar’ of the Church was chosen. He would have to suffer much for the Lord, but he would bring Christianity to the rest of the world.
We all know what happened to Saul on the way to Damascus, how he encountered the Risen Christ. Blind and fearful, brought down to the dust, Saul, who later became Paul, experienced the most startling conversion. Like Peter, Paul went through his own lockdown and had to regain his strength after experiencing his bitter weakness and inadequacy. Then Paul emerged a most ardent and intrepid Apostle of the Lord.
In their heroic actions, Peter and Paul were able to pass on to us the ultimate paradigm shift that has the power to save the world: the gospel. We must continue to bring it to the people of our time in the middle of our own difficulties.
Last year, a Chapel, which had no chance of becoming a reality, was built in a forgotten and marginalized area of a poor country where the Church was and continues to be persecuted. The way that project happened astonished me. The Lord chose a suffering little girl to touch people so profoundly that a Foundation to bring the Catholic faith to poor places in the world through the construction of churches was created. Only God could have brought that project at the right time to this Foundation in the most unplanned way. I imagine little Christina in the middle of St. Peter and St. Paul, smiling and sharing with them that she too wants to build the faith and build churches, knowing full well that mansions truly can be built out of “carton boxes” if only we trust in Jesus.
So I pray today, that through the intercession of Saints Peter and Paul, we will regain our strength after all the happenings in the world and confidently place ourselves in God’s hands so we may continue to build the faith with the power of the Holy Spirit and with the same humility, dedication and enthusiasm of our forefathers. It is my hope that we may bravely face our own uncertainty, trials and sufferings as did Peter, Paul and our little Christina, with our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, the hope of our salvation.
Sister Marta is a Sister Disciple of the Divine Master from Nicaragua. A former Architect and City Planner, she became a professed Secular Franciscan in 1997 and joined the Congregation of the Sister Disciples in 2000. She currently lives at the Pauline Disciple of the Divine Master convent in Boston, Massachusetts.