SFX Bulletin, 29 June 2014: Ensconced in secure Singapore, the martyrdom of Sts Peter and Paul, the pillars of the church, can seem like something from an era of blood-thirsty Roman emperors.
Both Peter and Paul are believed to have died under Emperor Nero before 68AD. Church Father, Origen, said that Peter felt unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus and, as he requested, was crucified with his head downward. Paul was beheaded at the Ostian Way. St. Peter’s Basilica, built over St. Peter’s tomb and the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls where St. Paul was slain, are the monumental reminders of their sacrifice for the apostolic church we have today.
The word “martyr” from the Greek “martys” means “witness”. Christian martyrdom inspired Church Father Tertullian’s conversion. In 197AD he rallied in “Apologeticus” against the unjust cruelty of the authorities towards the Church, “your cruelty serves no purpose. On the contrary, for our community, it is an invitation. We multiply every time one of us is mowed down. The blood of Christians is effective seed” (Apologeticus 50:13). Many of us are familiar with the succinct form of his bold declaration, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” – as Christians chose death and Jesus rather than earthly life and the worship of Roman gods, their steadfast faith inspired others to this non-violent Way.
What one is willing to die for often reflects what one is truly living for – the “treasure” that is in the heart (cf. Mt.6:21). For Sts Peter and Paul, their “treasure” can be found in Peter’s confession to Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, “You are the Christ…Son of the living God” (Mt.16:16).
This ‘treasure” grew in radiance and moved them to act for Jesus, “Peter was the first to profess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Paul spread this proclamation throughout the Greek and Roman world. And Providence ordained that they should both come to Rome and pour out their blood for the faith here. For this reason the Church of Rome immediately, spontaneously, became the reference point for all the Churches scattered across the world…At the core it is always and only the love of Christ that generates faith and carries the Church ahead” (Angelus, Pope Francis, 29 June 2013).
Sts. Peter and Paul’s love for Christ grew to the point where they would die for him as he died for them. Prepared to die and awed by his rescue, St. Peter said, “Now I know it is all true…the Lord really did send his angel and has saved me…” (Acts 12:11); Paul, too, embraced his imminent death, “My life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone” (2 Tim.4:6). Yet, both praised God to the end, harboured no ill-will for their persecutors but hoped that more would come to know God’s love through Christ as summed up in St. Paul’s words, “The Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear…To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim.4:18).
Today, our choice to be a Christian is not threatened by any brutal hostility. Yet, many things can stand between us and Jesus. Settling for a sentimental rather than a growing lively faith, material comforts, personal development in many ways but no time for spiritual growth rooted in Christ. As we reflect on Sts. Peter and Paul dying that others may know Jesus, let us also consider what we would die for. May such a reflection guide us to see Jesus with even greater certainty as “Christ…Son of the living God” - who died for us so that we can have a share in God’s life.