In the liturgical calendar there are several pairs of saints. Only among the apostles we celebrate together Philip and James on May 3 and Simon and Jude on October 28. The reasons why we put together saints can be diverse. For instance, Philip and James are celebrated together just because they are buried in the same church in Rome. So, why do we commemorate Peter and Paul in the same celebration? Peter could be celebrated along with his brother Andrew (there is a wonderful byzantine icon with the two brother apostles, where Peter is called ὁ κορυφαῖος, that is, “the leader”, and Andrew ὁ πρωτόκλητος, that is, “the first-called”), or he could be celebrated with John (we often encounter them together in the gospel). Paul could be celebrated along with Barnabas (the mother church of the Barnabites in Milan is precisely dedicated to Saints Paul and Barnabas). Instead, the liturgy wants us to celebrate together Peter and Paul. And yet they are so different from each other and they never worked together. Peter was a poor fisherman; Paul, an intellectual. Peter had been one of the Twelve, unlike Paul, who was called after Jesus’ ascension. They met just few times: we heard last night from the letter to the Galatians that Paul met Cephas in Jerusalem three years after his conversion. From the same letter we learn that after fourteen years he went again to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus, and on that occasion James, Cephas and John gave them their right hands in partnership. In the same letter Paul narrates what happened in Antioch, where he opposed Peter because, after the coming of some Judaizers from Jerusalem, he stopped eating with Gentile Christians. Then they met again in Rome, where both of them died. We do not know exactly when, if in the same period or in different moments. Certainly they were killed in different places and in different ways: Peter was crucified, according to tradition head down; Paul, who was a Roman citizen, instead, was beheaded. Peter was buried on the Vatican hill; Paul along the Ostian Way.
So, why do we celebrate together two apostles so different from each other? The only thing they have in common would seem the city where both of them died. The Church celebrates them together, because she considers them her own “pillars.” The Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles, among whom Peter and Paul are the most important. This does not mean that they should be identical. In the Church each one has his own charism. In the letter to the Galatians Paul tells us that God had given different gifts to him and to Peter: “I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter to the circumcised, for the one who worked in Peter for an apostolate to the circumcised worked also in me for the Gentiles.” In the preface of this Mass we read that Peter was foremost in confessing the faith and Paul its outstanding preacher; Peter established the early Church from the remnant of Israel and Paul was the master and teacher of the Gentiles. Then the preface adds: “Each in a different way (diverso consilio) gathered together the one family of Christ.” Here is the reason why today we celebrate together these apostles: with different gifts, they built up the Church.
The Church needs both of them (as she needs all the charisms God gives to her). We cannot separate them. Sometimes, since Jesus gave Peter the primacy upon the other apostles, we think that he is enough, and we can do without others. But this is not the right concept of primacy: primacy means that Peter is the first, not the only one. There is need also of the other apostles and, among them, especially of Paul. Let us build up the Church, each of us with their own gift. There is no need of being identical to do that; the only thing we should have in common is the same faith. With it, each of us in their own way will serve the Lord and build up the Church.