The Courage of the Early Christians
We conclude this month with the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29th—and the Feast of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome on June 30th, two remembrances that take us back to the days of the early Church, when our faith was in its infancy and those preaching and converting to Christianity faced extreme persecution.
Saints Peter and Paul were among the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome, and their leadership galvanized the early Christians to remain true to their faith even in the face of death. It was a terrifying time for the followers of Christ as Nero was trying to obfuscate his own inept governance by unjustly blaming a devastating fire in the city on the Christian community.
A few decades after their deaths, Clement of Rome sent a letter about Saints Peter and Paul to the Church in Corinth, writing: “Peter, who because of unrighteous jealousy endured not one or two, but numerous trials, and so bore a martyr’s witness and went to the glorious place that he deserved…. Paul pointed the way to the reward of endurance; seven times he was imprisoned, he was exiled, he was stoned, he was a preacher in both east and west, and won renown for his faith, teaching uprightness to the whole world….”
It is fitting that the Feasts of Saints Peter and Paul and of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome coincide with each other because the heroism of Peter and Paul exemplifies the courage of so many Christians whose names are lost to history but who gave up their lives for their love of Christ.
The stories of Peter and Paul are also representative of the early Christian community in ways that remain relevant today and teach lasting lessons about how to follow Christ in our own lives.
When Simon Peter first met Jesus and saw his nets miraculously filled with more fish than his boat could hold, he fell to his knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Yet Christ called Peter and later declared him “the rock” upon which He would build His Church. What an amazing title to place upon an ordinary “sinful man,” and we know that, despite Christ’s declaration about Peter being “the rock,” he failed in such a dramatic way through his three famous denials during the Passion. But that was not the end for Peter, and that kind of failure is never the end for those with the courage to admit their faults and allow themselves to be redeemed by the love of God.
Paul was so corrupt that he persecuted Christians and even put them to death. Yet Christ called Paul to repent of his evil ways, and he went on to become one of the great evangelists of the early Church. The amazing redemptions experienced by both Peter and Paul exemplify the astounding grace at work in the lives of all those early Christians who faced martyrdom with the fervent faith that death was not the end.
Let’s pray for the intercession of Saints Peter and Paul and those First Martyrs of the Church of Rome so that we may always know that failure, sin, and even death do not define us when we accept God’s mercy and set our eyes upon the redemption won by Christ’s sacrifice for us all.