For the last few days I have been thinking on and off of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, whose martyrdom is celebrated today in the universal church, and of how two men with such different personalities would come to share a similar fate. St. Peter was a robust and practical fisherman from a small town. St. Paul was more cosmopolitan, a scholar, a pharisee, and a Roman citizen. They were both killed in a public and grisly manner far, far from their homeland. One was crucified, the other was beheaded.
How easy it would have been to have retired to some safe corner somewhere where they would not have bothered anyone! To just give up preaching, and writing all those letters, and generally harassing the pagans and correcting lax Christians...surely they had already done and suffered enough! Didn't they have a right to live their own life, and find some peace and quiet? After all, they had given up all for God, and now they were old...why couldn't they obscurely die in bed?
Ask St Peter, as he was fleeing from Rome, where Nero was burning Christians at his garden parties, and suddenly he ran into Our Lord, Who was walking along the Appian Way in the opposite direction.
Quo vadis, Domine? "Where are you going, Lord?" asked St Peter.
"To Rome, to be crucified again," Jesus replied. And St. Peter knew what he had to do...he had to go back. He was arrested and crucified, upside down, at his own request, for he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as his Master. He was always deeply humbled by the memory of his past denial.
Here are some words from the ancient and beautiful hymn for this feast, "What fairer light?"
Rejoice, O Rome, this day; thy walls they once did sign
With princely blood, who now their glory share with thee.
What city's vesture glows with crimson deep as thine?
What beauty else has earth that may compare with thee?