The feast of the Confession of Peter is celebrated on January 18th marking the beginning of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. This Octave concludes on January 25th with the Feast of the Conversion of Paul, also the most notable event of his life.
The confession of Peter is the watershed moment in the Gospel narrative, most completely recorded in Matthew 16. Here Peter becomes the first person to confess that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” and Jesus replies that “upon this rock I will build my church.”
Today we join Peter and all Christians everywhere in hailing Jesus as our God, Lord, and Savior.
A few years after the resurrection of Jesus, Saul came in contact with this new Christian movement, and immediately became one of the most fanatical of those who were determined to stamp out this “dangerous heresy.” He was on his way to Damascus to lead in further persecution of the Christians there, when his dramatic conversion took place.
From that day, Saul devoted his life totally to Christ, and especially to the conversion of the Gentiles. The book of Acts describes the courage and determination with which Saul (now Paul) planted Christian churches over much of the Roman Empire.
We began the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity with a recognition of Peter. We now conclude it with a feast day honoring Paul, for the remarkable way in which he, too, responded to the call of Christ on his life.
As companions of Paul, Timothy and Titus are commemorated together close to the feast of Paul’s conversion. Paul several times mentions their youth, while entrusting them with great responsibilities, a reminder that faithfulness, care and the love of Christ, not age, are the important qualities for Christian witness.
Marcella was raised in a noble Roman family. She married, but her husband died while she was still in her teens. After that Marcella devoted herself to a life of charitable works, study, and asceticism. Unlike Antony she kept her palace (on the Aventine Hill) and used it as a center for spreading the gospel and caring for poor Christian pilgrims, among whom were St. Athanasius and Sr. Jerome.
She was tortured by the Goths when they captured Rome in 410, and she died from the effects of these injuries at the age of 85.
When Mary placed the baby Jesus in the arms of Simeon, it was the meeting of the Old and New Covenants. The old sacrifices, the burnt offerings were done away, and a new and perfect offering had come into the temple. God had provided himself a Lamb. The offering was to be made once for all on the cross.
According to the Gospel narrative today’s feast is sometimes known as the Purification of Mary. In the Eastern Church it has been called the Meeting of Christ with Simeon. It is also known as Candlemas, because it was observed with a procession of lighted candles. Such a variety of names points to the wealth of spiritual meaning that generations of Christians have discovered in this “small” incident.
The name of Sr. Benedict of Nursia is known throughout the Western world, but little is known of his sister, St. Scholastica. We do know that when Benedict founded his monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy, Scholastica founded a house of sisters nearby, following the same rules and guidelines that her brother laid down for his monks. Although they lived so close to each other, they visited only once a year to talk over things of the Spirit.
Gregory the Great tells us that on Benedict’s last visit, Scholastica pleaded with him to stay longer than usual, but the old monk was determined to return to his cell at the appointed hour. In desperation, Scholastica prayed for rain to block his return. There followed such a violent storm that Benedict could not return home until the following day.
Two days later, Scholastica died, and looking toward her house from his mountaintop monastery, Benedict saw a white dove ascending to heaven, and knew that it was the sign of her death and the rising of her spirit to God.
St. Polycarp’s martyrdom is one of the most well-documented events of ancient history.
To save his life he only needed to say the words “Caesar is Lord.” Instead he replied: “For eighty-six years I have served Christ, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” He was then burned at the stake, and it is said that the flames enfolded him like great angel wings.
Perpetua was a young widow, mother of an infant and owner of several slaves, including Felicity. Together they were catechumens preparing for baptism.
In 202 AD, Emperor Septimius Severus decreed that all persons should sacrifice to the divinity of the emperor. There was no way that a Christian, confessing faith in one Lord Jesus Christ, could do this. Perpetua and Felicity were arrested and held in prison. At the public hearing before the proconsul, Perpetua refused even the pleas of her father, saying “I am a Christian.” They were sent to the arena in Carthage and given to the wild beasts.
Before she died, Perpetua cried out to the other Christians “Stand fast in the faith and love one another, and do not let what we suffer be a stumbling block to you.”
Thus we have the account of the first women martyrs on our calendar of saints.
I bind this day to me forever, by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation; His baptism in the Jordan River; His death on the cross for my salvation; His bursting from the spiced tomb; His riding up the heavenly way; His coming on the day of doom; I bind unto myself today.
From the “The Breastplate of St. Patrick”, a prayer written by St. Patrick in 433
Joseph accepted the responsibility of protecting Mary and being a father to Jesus in the face of circumstances that would distress even a man of such faith and obedience as he was. He is honored for the nurturing care and protection he provided for the infant Jesus and his mother, in taking them to Egypt to escape Herod, and in raising Jesus as a faithful Jew in Nazareth. He is considered the patron saint of the working man, because he not only worked with his hands, but taught his trade to his son.
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:28, 30‒33)