The heroism of St Peter and St Paul still has great power to win souls

A detail from The Crucifixion of St Peter by Caravaggio

The two great saints, St Peter and St Paul were a dynamic duo, but they had a complicated and tetchy relationship. There was even a painful time when they were at odds with each other.

In Galatians II, there is an account of St Paul reprimanding St Peter because Peter was giving a contradictory example to the Gentiles who they were trying to evangelise. Peter had been raised as an observant Jew, who was Our Lord’s anointed as the first Pope. However, as the first Pope he was becoming hypocritical, he was preaching one thing to the Gentiles, yet he was living differently to the way he asked the Gentiles to live. Our Lord Jesus Christ always denounced the hypocrites in the Gospels and it follows that hypocrisy is a toxin that inhibits the faith from growing in a soul.

As St Peter had erred in plain sight of people, St Paul corrected St Peter in plain sight of people. The disorder caused by a public act of hypocrisy was undone by a public reprimand. Were St Paul and St Peter rulers of the Church today, and had St Peter behaved hypocritically, giving a confusing example, we probably would never hear about it. A PR guru would have silenced St Paul and instructed him not to tell off St Peter, for the sake of St Peter’s good name and reputation. But what happened in the early Church was that St Peter showed true saintliness, he took St Paul’s reprimand in the right way, and he modified his example so that he lived the same way as he asked the Gentiles to live.

The importance of this good example cannot be underestimated. St Paul was right to insist that St Peter give a consistent example of living as a Christian. The heroism of St Peter and St Paul still has great power to win souls for Christ. When I interviewed the legendary comedy writer, Tom Leopold, he was exceptionally clear that the one thing that had absolutely convinced him to convert to Catholicism was that the first disciples and Apostles put their lives on the line to spread the Gospel. As Tom Leopold said, “they were marked men, but they never stopped, even when faced with the prospect of being crucified upside down.”

The ultimate sacrifice of St Peter is the very thing that made Tom Leopold become a very devout Catholic, even though there was never a Catholic convert in Tom Leopold’s family tree before him. Now it’s our turn not to be hypocritical: if we act as Christians, can we talk as Christians and take it upon ourselves to tell our neighbours and friends of the martyrdom of Ss Peter and Paul, so that it may inspire the same commitment to the Faith that we have? It’s not some ineffectual, hopeless task. A priest told Tom Leopold that St Peter was crucified upside down, and it was the catalyst for his decision to become Catholic. Telling the story of St Peter might do the same for someone in your life.