Homily for the Pluscarden Pilgrimage

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, why celebrate Ss Peter and Paul? What have they done for us? What do we owe them? What have they given us?

We can be simple. It’s best to be simple. They have given us Someone to love. This is what they gave their contemporaries and what has come down from them to every generation since, including ours. It’s what they’ll give every generation still to come. They have given us Someone to love. Someone all-surpassing who can awaken an all-surpassing love in us and between us. They have done this by their lives and their way of life, by their teaching and writing, by their deaths and their ongoing prayer. They have done it with their whole selves. They have given us Someone to love, a new love, the fulness of love which can hold and mould every other honest love within itself.

Let’s consider them a moment: two guys, two Jews. Two different personalities of different social backgrounds, different education, different professions. Cast by life’s lottery into a certain time and place, close to the time and place when / where Jesus of Nazareth happened. No need to rehearse the details. And both of them led, by different paths, to realise just who and what this Jesus was and is. No need to rehearse the details; we know them roughly enough. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, says Peter. “Who are you, Lord?” asks Paul “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” comes the answer. In other words, “I am alive”.  For both of them, it would become clear that this knowing who Jesus was and is was a gift from above. “It was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, Simon son of Jonah, but my Father in heaven,” Peter hears. And later Paul will write: “He who had set me apart from the day of my birth [namely, God the Father] and called me by his grace, was pleased to make his Son known in me.” Both of them experienced their knowing of Jesus as a gift from the One who alone knows his Son perfectly, a gift of the Father. For both of them, coming to know Christ must have been standing before a tree in springtime and seeing it green and blossom before them. Or like entering a great sunlit landscape unfolding before their eyes in fields and forests, hills and valleys, mountains and lochs, on and on. Here was Someone to love! Here was, in Jewish terms, someone more than another prophet, than an Elijah or Jeremiah or John the Baptist. Someone more: the Christ and a Christ who was the Son of the living God, who has a divine depth to him that reaches into eternity. Here, in the terms of their Greco-Roman world was Someone more than the founder of a city or a wise law-giver or a military genius or an orator or philosopher. Here, in our terms, someone more than another politician or far-seeing scientist or celebrity or corporate mega-magnate or climate-warrior. Here was Someone who, without the usual confusions, focussed everything good, true and beautiful. Someone to love with a strange and wonderful love, a new love answering his newness, a love that includes faith and hope, trust and confidence, a love with an eternal horizon, a love ready to forgive and admit fault, that can even embrace suffering and dying, like its giver, a love that can become compassion for people in pain, a passion for peace-making, a concern for creation, that can find its way into all the works of mercy, old and new. Deep calling to deep. Someone to love.

It’s because they met and knew and lived all this that Peter and Paul are feasted. As the readings show, prison and law courts couldn’t hamper them, We honour them, these rocks, foundation stones, these roots of the Church, because they gave on and still give on what they received: this great love.

And how did they do it? To be simple, they did it by talking. They did it by words. They did it by what we call preaching. By speaking to Jews and Gentiles, in houses and synagogues, on journeys, in boats, to groups large and small, to families and households and individuals. They used the spoken word and the written word. They proclaimed the word of God and the Holy Spirit was with them as they did. I proclaimed it fully, says St Paul.

They preached Christ. They evoked his Person, they told his story, above all the story of his passion and death and resurrection and the hope of his coming again. They unpacked its implications for our understanding of God and the world, for history and for life and behaviour and for our future. They evoked an invisible Presence, a rescuer, a friend, a protection. They offered a Name to call on, a Face to look at and a Heart to rest in. They took people out of prison. They gave them someone to love.

Brothers and sisters, this is what the Church does, founded on the Apostles, Christ’s Bride, Christ’s Body. Through all the ways and forms of life she is so rich in – from monastic life to married life and so much else – she Mary-like, Peter and Paul-like, offers the world this Someone to love. And this first way remains: the way of the Word, of the ministry of the life-giving Word of God. Through the Sacrament of Orders, deacons, priests and bishops are tasked in a special way for this. But thanks to the Christ we have received in baptism and perhaps receive again and again in the Eucharist, because of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts at Confirmation, we are all called to carry and birth and share the living words of God. How much kindness and wisdom an ordinary, praying Christian can insert into the busy and bothered days of those around them!

A poet once imagined an ordinary woman overwhelmed by the privilege of this:

“Mystery of mysteries, this privilege that was given to us…
To keep alive the words of life
To nourish with our blood, with our flesh, with our heart
The words which, without us, would collapse fleshless…
To make the word understood through the centuries…
To make it resound.”
And always in service to this loveable One we call the Lord.

To conclude: in the Liturgy of the Word – we’re in the middle of it now – the Church gives us a masterclass on hearing God speak. Likewise in the Lectionary she brings the Old and New Testaments close to us. From Advent, the Church in Scotland, England and Wales will begin using new versions of the Psalms and of the Readings, aiming to be closer to the biblical texts and still contemporary. May it help us hear the word afresh! And that word lead us powerfully to the Eucharist.

Thank you, dear Readers, all of you, for taking this ministry on. It is precious. It is doing what the saints we honour today did and do. You are, very simply, giving us Someone to love.

In the words of Pope Gregory the Great, “let us learn the heart of God in the words of God.”

Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul – 30th June 2024 – “Someone to Love”


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
A registered Scottish Charity Number SC005122