Pope Francis on feast of Saints Peter and Paul: ‘Only prayer unlocks chains’

Catholic News Agency

By Courtney Mares/Catholic News Agency

On the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul on Monday, Pope Francis urged Christians to pray for one another and for unity, saying “only prayer unlocks chains.”

“What would happen if we prayed more and complained less?” Pope Francis asked in his homily in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 29.

“The same thing that happened to Peter in prison: now as then, so many closed doors would be opened, so many chains that bind would be broken. … Let us ask for the grace to be able to pray for one another,” he said.

Pope Francis said that Peter and Paul were two very different people, yet God gave them the grace to be closely united in Christ.

“We celebrate together two very different individuals: Peter, a fisherman who spent his days amid boats and nets, and Paul, a learned Pharisee who taught in synagogues. When they went forth on mission, Peter spoke to Jews, and Paul to pagans. And when their paths crossed, they could argue heatedly, as Paul is unashamed to admit in one of his letters,” he said.

“The closeness that joined Peter and Paul did not come from natural inclinations, but from the Lord,” the pope said.

The Lord “did not command us to like one another, but to love one another,” he said. “He is the one who unites us, without making us all alike.”

St. Paul urged Christians to pray for everyone, Pope Francis said, “especially those who govern.” The pope underlined that this is “a task that the Lord has entrusted to us.”

“Are we carrying it out? Or do we simply talk … and do nothing?” he asked.

Pointing to the account of St. Peter’s imprisonment in the Acts of the Apostles, Pope Francis said that the early Church responded to persecution by joining in prayer. Chapter 12 of the Book of Acts describes Peter as imprisoned “by double chains” when an angel appeared to him to facilitate his escape.

“The text says that, ‘while Peter was kept in prison, the Church prayed fervently to God for him,’” Pope Francis said. “Unity is the fruit of prayer, for prayer allows the Holy Spirit to intervene, opening our hearts to hope, shortening distances and holding us together at times of difficulty.”

The pope said that none of the early Christians described in Acts “complained about Herod’s evil and his persecution” as they faced martyrdom.

“It is pointless, even tedious, for Christians to waste their time complaining about the world, about society, about everything that is not right. Complaints change nothing,” he said. “Those Christians did not cast blame; they prayed.”

“Only prayer unlocks chains, only prayer paves the way to unity,” the pope said.

Pope Francis said that both St. Peter and St. Paul were prophets who looked to the future.

He said: “Peter is the first to proclaim that Jesus is ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’. Paul, who considers his impending death, said, ‘From now on there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord will award to me.”

“Peter and Paul preached Jesus, as men in love with God,” he said. “At his crucifixion, Peter did not think about himself but about his Lord, and, considering himself unworthy of dying like Jesus, asked to be crucified upside down. Before his beheading, Paul thought only of offering his life; he wrote that he wanted to be ‘poured out like a libation.’”

Pope Francis offered Mass at the Altar of the Chair, which is located behind the main altar that is built upon St. Peter’s tomb. The pope also prayed before the basilica’s bronze statue of St. Peter, which was adorned for the feast with a papal tiara and a red cope.

During this Mass, the pope blessed the “pallium,” the white woolen vestments to be given to each new metropolitan archbishop. These were made with wool woven by the Benedictine Sisters of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, and are adorned with six black silk crosses.

The tradition of the pallium dates back to at least the fifth century. Metropolitan archbishops wear the pallium as a symbol of authority and of unity with the Holy See. It serves as a sign of the metropolitan archbishop’s jurisdiction in his own diocese, as well as the other particular dioceses within his ecclesiastical province.

“Today we bless the pallia to be bestowed on the dean of the College of Cardinals and the metropolitan archbishops named in the last year. The pallium is a sign of the unity between the sheep and the Shepherd who, like Jesus, carries the sheep on his shoulders, so as never to be separated from it,” Pope Francis said.

The pope, who himself was also wearing a pallium during the Mass, bestowed a pallium on Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who was elected as the dean of the College of Cardinals in January.

The recently appointed metropolitan archbishops will receive their blessed pallia from their local apostolic nuncio.

After the Mass, Pope Francis prayed the Angelus from the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace with a small crowd spread throughout St. Peter’s Square for the feast.

“It is a gift to find ourselves praying here, near the place where Peter died a martyr and is buried,” the pope said.

“Visiting the tombs of the Apostles will strengthen your faith and testimony.”

Pope Francis said that only in giving can one become great, and said that God desires to help each Christian grow in their capacity to give life.

“The most important thing in life is to make life a gift,” he said, saying this is true for parents as well as consecrated.

“Let us look to Saint Peter: he did not become a hero because he was freed from prison, but because he gave his life here. His gift transformed a place of execution into the beautiful place of hope in which we find ourselves,” he said.

“Today, before the Apostles, we can ask ourselves: ‘And I, how do I arrange my life? Do I think only of the needs of the moment or do I believe that my real need is Jesus, who makes me a gift? And how do I build life, on my capacities or on the living God?,’” he said. “May Our Lady, who entrusted everything to God, help us to put Him at the foundation of every day.”

COMING UP: A man for strengthening others

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When the choirs of angels led Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, into the Father’s House on September 3, I hope the seraphic choirmaster chose music appropriate to the occasion.  Had I been asked, I would have suggested the Latin antiphon Ecce sacerdos magnus as arranged by Anton Bruckner. The all-stops-pulled moments in Bruckner’s composition, deploying organ, brass, and full choir, would have been a perfect match for Paul Mankowski’s rock-solid Catholic faith, his heroic ministry, and his robust literary and oratorical style; the a capella sections, softly sung, mirror the gentleness with which he healed souls. Above all, I would have suggested Bruckner’s motet because Father Mankowski truly was what the antiphon celebrates: “a great priest who in his days pleased  God.”

We were friends for some 30 years and I can say without reservation that I have never met anyone like Paul Mankowski. He was off-the-charts brilliant, an extraordinary linguist and scholar; but he wore his learning lightly and was a tremendous wit. He rarely expressed doubts about anything; but he displayed a great sensitivity to the doubts and confusions of those who had the humility to confess that they were at sea. He could be as fierce as Jeremiah in denouncing injustice and dishonesty; but the compassion he displayed to spiritually wounded fellow-priests and laity, who sought healing through the work of grace at his hands, was just as notable a feature of his personality.

His curriculum vitae was singular. The son of working-class parents, he put himself through the University of Chicago working summers in a steel mill. He did advanced degrees at Oxford and Harvard, becoming the sparring partner of a future Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, at the former, and delving deeply into the mysteries of Semitic philology – unfathomable, to most of his friends – at the latter. He taught at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and was pastor of an English-speaking parish in Amman, Jordan. Wherever he was, he lived like a true ascetic; he was also the best company imaginable at a meal or a party.

He was a writer of genius, although his published bibliography is considerably slimmer than it might have been, thanks to the years when he was silenced or censored by his religious superiors. A good example of his ability to combine keen insight and droll humor is his 1992 dissection of the goings-on at the annual convention of the American Academy of Religion (available here). More recently, Father Mankowski drew on his extensive experience as a confessor and spiritual director to pen, with his superiors’ permission, a respectful but sharp critique of his fellow Jesuit James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge (available here). In the decades between those two pieces, and when permitted to do so, he published essays and reviews on a wide range of topics, including literature, politics, Church affairs, biblical translations and the priesthood, while sharing his private musings with friends in a seemingly endless series of pungent parodies, revised song lyrics, and imagined news stories.

Years ago, his friend Father Richard John Neuhaus dubbed Father Mankowski one of the “Papal Bulls:” Jesuits of a certain generation notable for their intellectually sophisticated and unwavering Catholic orthodoxy, which often got them into hot water of various temperatures (including boiling) with their Ignatian brothers and superiors. Paul Mankowski was no bull, papal or otherwise, in a china shop, though. He relished debate and was courteous in it; what he found off-putting was the unwillingness of Catholic progressives to fight their corner with a frank delineation of their position. This struck him as a form of hypocrisy. And while Father Mankowski, the good shepherd, often brought strays back to the Lord’s flock, he was unsparingly candid about what he perceived as intellectual dishonesty, or what he recently deplored as “ignoble timidity” in facing clerical corruption. Paul Mankowski was not a man of the subjunctive, and he paid the price for it.

He is beyond all that now, and I like to imagine St. Ignatius of Loyola welcoming him to the Father’s House with a hearty “Well done, my son.” In this valley of tears, freshly moistened by those who mourn his untimely death at age 66, Father Paul V. Mankowski, SJ, will be remembered by those of us who loved him as a man and a priest who, remaining faithful to his Jesuit and sacerdotal vocations, became a tower of strength for others. This was a man of God. This was a man, whose courageous manliness reflected his godliness.