Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

We Cannot Remain Separated

by Pope Saint John Paul II


Pope John Paul II's homily for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29, 1995.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano, English Edition, July 5, 1995, pp. 6, 7

Publisher & Date

June 29, 1995

1. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16).

Today the Church returns to this confession, spoken by Peter near Caesarea Philippi. This is the faith of the Apostolic College, in whose name Peter is speaking. This is the faith of Paul. Both Peter and Paul bore witness to it even to the shedding of their own blood. According to tradition, this happened here in Rome in Nero's time, around the year 67 after the birth of Christ.

Today, in a particular way, we commemorate Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, who was the first to be called (Protokletos) and who brought Simon to Christ. With intense feeling, we call his figure to mind today because on this solemn day the Church of Rome welcomes as her guest Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, and the Church over which he presides is especially linked to the person and martyrdom of the Apostle Andrew.

Every year on 30 November, the Feast of St. Andrew, the Church of Rome joins her sister Church in honouring her patron. It is a deep joy for us today, as we recall the glorious memory of Simon Peter, Andrew's brother, to be able to welcome to Rome the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Holiness Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the first See among the world's Orthodox Churches. Today, with Andrew, Peter utters these words: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16).

2. This confession discloses the mystery of God the Father to us. Christ, in responding to Peter's words, said: "Blessed are you, Simon-Bar Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 16:17). The Father revels the Son because only the Father knows the Son, as only the Son knows the Father (cf. Lk 10:22). The Church professes this faith with the words of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: "I believe in one God, Father almighty...."

This is a venerable text which we both recognize as a normative and irrevocable expression of the Church's one faith. No confession of faith which belongs to a specific liturgical tradition can contravene such a fundamental expression of the Trinitarian faith, taught and professed by the Church in all ages.

3. In this regard, it is necessary to clear up a misunderstanding which still casts its shadow on relations between Catholics and Orthodox. To this end a Joint Commission was established. Its task is to explain, in the light of our common faith, the legitimate meaning and importance of different traditional expressions concerning the eternal origin of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, expressions that are part of our mutual doctrinal and liturgical heritages. On the Catholic side, there is a firm desire to clarify the traditional doctrine of the Filioque, present in the liturgical version of the Latin Credo, in order to highlight its full harmony with what the Ecumenical Council confesses in its creed: the Father as the source of the whole Trinity, the one origin of both the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Son, consubstantial with the Father, is the eternal Word of which the Apostle John wrote in his Prologue to the Fourth gospel, confession the Word who "became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14). According to tradition, St. John wrote the Gospel in Ephesus, thereby becoming particularly dear to all the Christian East. His Gospel was the light that illumined the Church throughout the world.

We, the Successors of Peter and Andrew, united today in veneration of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, would also like to illumine our meeting with the light of John's Gospel, so that it may be clear to all that the same truth about the Father and the Son is professed by us and proclaimed in common.

4. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16).

Peter confesses this and, together with him, so does the whole Church which was founded on the Apostles. In confessing Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the Church is also indirectly proclaiming the truth about the Holy Spirit. In fact the name "Christ", from the Hebrew "Messiah", means one who is anointed with God's Spirit. This truth was expressed by the Prophet Isaiah many centuries before Christ in the words Jesus was to proclaim and bring to fulfilment at the beginning of his messianic activity: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor" (Lk 4:18).

The Holy Spirit, whom the Father sends in the name of the Son (cf. Jn 14:26), has been the source of the Church's life since the day of Pentecost, in accordance with the Redeemer's promise: "He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:26). The Spirit, who guides the Church and teaches her, who consecrates the Bishops as successors of the Apostles, is with us today in a particular way, as he was with Peter and Paul on the day of their martyrdom when they bore their definitive witness to Christ and sealed their mission with blood, leaving it as an inheritance not only to Rome, but to so many other places in the ancient world.

And how many of these places are found in Greece! It is enough to list the communities to which St. Paul's letters are addressed. From the "Pauline corpus", as it were, a common tradition of the Church in the East and in the West emerges. The whole series of Apostolic Letters in the New Testament are proof of their concern for all the Churches entrusted by God to the Apostles and to their successors until the end of time.

5. "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:18-19).

These words are overwhelming. The authority which Christ hands over to the Apostles, that of the keys of the kingdom of heaven and that of binding and loosing, is given to them in the person of Peter and in union with him. An unfathomable mystery!

Today's feast of the martyrdom of the holy Apostles reveals what is the true meaning of this authority: it is service. Peter, Paul and Andrew served even to the shedding of their blood, just as Christ had done before them: "For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45). The Apostles were called to participate in their Master's service: a service by which they were able to give the ultimate testimony; a service which was their true strength, their glory in Christ who died and rose again.

Today we wish to honour those who, in the course of the 2000 years of the new era, have witnessed and continue to witness to Christ in every corner of the earth, in the East and in the West, in the North and in the South. We would especially like to honour all those who have borne witness to the point of shedding their blood. We prepared ourselves for today's meeting by pondering again over the paths that this witness took in the Roman Colosseum and in the many other "colosseums" scattered throughout the world. Last year's Way of the Cross was a great help in this common reflection, whose texts were prepared in fact by our Brother, Bartholomew I.

6. Today's solemn liturgy is enriched by an additional and meaningful rite, the imposition of the pallium.

The pallium, which today the Bishop of Rome confers on the new Metropolitans, is an expression of a special spiritual bond with the confession and witness of St. Peter in Rome, and with the ministry of his Successor.

I embrace you with affection, beloved Brother Archbishops, and I rejoice in the fact that, having been sent to preside over Metropolitan Churches in various parts of the world, you will receive the pallium in the presence of our guest, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

7. The solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul invites us to reflect on the way taken by Peter and Paul as they followed Christ from the day of their calling to that of their martyrdom here in Rome. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles showed us St. Peter while he was still in Jerusalem on the first stage of the Church's long pilgrimage.

We listen together to the words of this passage, which in a certain sense recounts our own history, Venerable Brother Bartholomew I. We listen to it with deep veneration and feeling, now that the 2,000th year since the birth of Christ is approaching. It represents a great challenge for the whole of humanity and especially for all Christians. When I think of this historic goal, I am reminded of what St. Luke's Gospel says about the disciples' mission: "He sent them on ahead of him, two by two" (Lk 10:1). We should meditate on the meaning of these words. Do they not suggest that Christ is also sending us out two by two as messengers of his Gospel in the West and in the East?

Christ is sending us out together, so that we may jointly bear witness to him. Thus we cannot remain separated! We must walk together, because this is Our Lord's will. The world must recover its faith at the end of the second millennium and at the start of the third! This is why we should redouble our efforts; we must commit ourselves actively to becoming truly one, just as he, Christ, is one with the Father (cf. Jn 17:22).

At the altar of the "Confessio" over Peter's tomb, let us pray for this together. Together with us, the whole Church in the West and in the East is praying, the Church which Christ entrusted to us, just as he once entrusted her to Peter and Andrew, establishing her on the foundation of the Apostles as the way of eternal salvation for every people and every nation, until the end of the world.

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