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

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: Banned books: Pushing back against the new ideology

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How would you know if you were being brainwashed? When something plainly false — contrary to common sense and right reason — is so constantly forced on you and you are not allowed to question it, it’s a good indication. This is the nature of ideology: imposing a position without truly establishing it or allowing it to be criticized. We have seen that something clearly opposed to the basics of scientific fact, such as the nature of sex as male and female, can be forced quickly upon American society through the influence of media and public education. And, perhaps not too surprisingly, even something as clear as 2+2=4 has been called into question by progressive educators, such as Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez, turning it into a sign of alleged oppression.  

In our time, dystopian novels have become reality. George Orwell best described the use of ideology in modern political regimes through doublethink, newspeak, and thoughtcrime. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the main character, Winston Smith, is coerced to accept that 2+2=5, showing his allegiance to ideology over reality. Orwell speaks of the way ideology gains power over the mind: “The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them.” This domination does not broker any opposition: “It is intolerable . . .  that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be.” If the truth can circulate freely, then ideology will fail.  

You might ask how the acceptance of ideology differs from accepting the mystery of faith, which requires our obedience to God. A key difference is that God’s revelation makes sense even while beyond reason. God does not shut down our thinking but wants us to ask questions and continue to come to know him and his creation throughout our lives. Faith cannot contradict reason because they both come from God, from his gifts of revelation and creation. You know you are facing ideology, however, when it refuses any discussion of contrary views. Catholics have been accused of hate for refusing to go along with the new ideology of human sexuality. This ideology claims to speak truly of the reality of human life, although it doesn’t add up, contradicting itself and the clear facts of science. The fight for the future focuses on speaking the truth. Without the ability to think, discuss, and read freely, it will be hard to respond to the ideological wave overwhelming us. 

Throughout the country, however, great books and humanities programs are being shut down for their emphasis on the Western tradition. Cornell West, an African American philosopher at Harvard, writing with Jeremy Tate, speaks of the spiritual tragedy of one American university closing down its classics department: “Yet today, one of America’s greatest Black institutions, Howard University, is diminishing the light of wisdom and truth that inspired [Frederick] Douglass, [Martin Luther] King and countless other freedom fighters. . . . Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture.” For West and Tate, cancelling the Western canon shuts down the central conversation of the pursuit of wisdom that touches every culture.  

Canceling the pursuit of wisdom hits at the integrity of our culture itself, as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, another dystopian novel, focused on saving books from the fire set on wiping them out, explains: “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.” Books proved hostile in this all-too-real futuristic American society portrayed by Bradbury, undermining the state of contended distraction provided by an omnipresent virtual reality. The fight for truth necessarily entails the books we read and teach.  

In our current cancel culture, Catholics too are being silenced for speaking about reality. Amazon recently cancelled Ryan T. Anderson, who studied at Princeton and Notre Dame and now directs the Ethics and Public Policy Center, blocking the sale of its book on its platform for questioning transgender ideology. The book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement (Encounter Books, 2018), provides a well-researched and thought-out response to the movement overturning common sense and millennia of acquired wisdom. Even more than that, Anderson shows how we are experimenting on our children, subjecting them to practices of hormone therapy and surgery that have not been proven safe or effective. Anderson provides evidence of ideology at work, through its coercive attempt to force us to accept what contradicts clear scientific evidence: “At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person — in particular, that people are what they claim to be regardless of contrary evidence” (29).  

Anderson does not deny the need to help those who suffer from gender dysphoria, although the heart of the books focuses on whether or not we are willing to accept reality and to help others to do so. As Anderson explains, “determining reality is the heart of the matter, and here too we find contradictions … Is our gender biologically determined and immutable or self-created and changeable? … At the core of the ideology is the radical claim that feelings determine reality. From this idea come extreme demands for society to play along with subjective reality claims. Trans ideologues ignore contrary evidence and competing interests; they disparage alternative practices; and they aim to muffle skeptical voices and shut down disagreement. The movement has to keep patching and shoring up its beliefs, policing the faithful, coercing the heretics and punishing apostates, because as soon as its furious efforts flag for a moment or someone successfully stands up to it, the whole charade is exposed. That’s what happens when your dogmas are so contrary to obvious, basic, everyday truths” (47-48). Not only philosophers like Anderson, but many educators, doctors, scientists, and politicians have been cancelled for standing up to the blatant falsehoods of this ideology. 

Does 2+2=5? Is a man a man and a woman a woman? No matter the effect of hormones and surgeries, every cell in the body points to the biological reality of sex, along with a myriad of other physical and emotional traits. Shutting down study and debate does not get to the heart of the matter, the truth of reality and the way to help those who suffer. The ideology does not truly focus on tolerance of others or creating reasonable accommodations, as it seeks to impose itself and coerce us. The reinterpretation of Title IX manifests an “Orwellian fiat” by which sex discrimination, meant to protect women, now becomes a means to discriminate against them: “The Women’s Liberation Front highlights the strange transformation of Title IX into a means to deny privacy, safety, education opportunity, and equality to women” (190). Anderson’s book provides an essential overview of the goals of the transgender movement and how to respond to it from a philosophical and scientific perspective. We should not allow the book to be cancelled! 

The goal of this new ideology is not simply to accept and tolerate a particular position, but, as Orwell recognized, to change us. It constitutes an attempt to redefine what it means to be a human being and to change the way we think about reality. Anything standing in the way will be cancelled or even burned. The quick success of this movement, and other ideologies as well, should make us pause. Do we want our children to think freely and wisely or simply to conform to what is imposed on them without question?  

As Catholics, we are called to think in conformity with faith and reason, upholding the truth, even when inconvenient. We are called to continue to form our own minds and accept the reality of how God made us and how he calls us into relationship with him, as the true source of overcoming suffering and difficulty. If you are uninformed and unable to judge rightly and logically, you are more likely to become prey to the new ideology, especially as enforced by government control and big business. We need Catholic freedom fighters, those willing, with charity, to stop the burning of the great ideas and the cancelling of our own faith.  


Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash