I’d like today to look at our first reading. If this reading seemed a bit surprising to you that is because it is from the Mass of the Vigil for this Feast, not from the Mass of the day.
In this reading we start by finding the Apostles Peter and John on their way somewhere. Now I know this Feast is Peter and Paul, but in this reading it is Peter and John. So John gets in today’s feast as well. The more Apostles the merrier. Anyway they are on their way. Anyone remember where they were going?
To the Temple! And why were they headed to the temple at 3 o’clock in the afternoon? ¿To get there early for a parish fish-fry or fried chicken dinner? NO. To attend a lively book discussion group? NO. To arrange for a bar-mitzvah or some other ceremony? NO. We are told they are going to the temple to pray. Specifically “for the three o’clock hour of prayer.”
You see, the ancient Jews had certain set hours for prayer, which they prayed four times each day: at 6:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., Noon, and 3:00 p.m. In the Middle East you can still see this being done in the Muslim call to prayer. They pray five times a day: pre-dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening. Has anyone here ever been to the Middle East or an Islamic country and been awakened at an un-godly hour by the loud-speaker wailing call to prayer?
We Christians also have this practice of prayer at certain times of the day. We call it Liturgy of the Hours, or in older parlance, the Breviary. In monasteries and religious houses different times of the day are sanctified by Morning Prayer or Lauds, Evening Prayer or Vespers, Night Prayers or Compline, and several other services for the enthusiastic. Some parishes do some of these prayers on a regular basis, and individual laity pray them as well. But, unfortunately, prayer at certain hours is not as common among Christians as it is among Moslems.
Isn’t it interesting that ancient peoples, whose primary clock was the position of the sun, were much more committed to making holy the various portions of the day by regular prayer than we modern types who are so completely – even obsessively – conscious of time, down to the minute and second and milli-second. With our atomic clocks, watches, cell phones, buzzers, and other time keeping devices we live by the clock. God help us if the Mass starts 4 minutes late!
But we don’t stop to pray as Peter and John were doing in our first reading. Of course, we have so many more important things to do than they did. (that is irony).
But I digress.
Peter and John see a crippled man there begging for alms. Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit looked intently at him and said to him, “Look at us.” Look at us. I find that an interesting thing to say. Why did Peter say that? What did Peter want the crippled man to see? I am guessing but I think Peter wanted this man who was disabled to see in Peter and John the result of their encounter with the Risen Lord. Peter wanted him to see the Joy, the Peace, the Faith, the Love, that filled their hearts and their lives, because that is what Peter was anxious to share with him. Peter knew the Resurrected Christ and the fullness of life that flowed from Christ. And that inner healing was what the crippled man needed most of all. His dis-ability was spiritual as well as physical.
It is what all of us need most of all. All over the world, in our very city, in our very neighborhoods and families, there are people who are spiritually crippled. They don’t know why they are here on earth, why they bother to get up each day, what tremendous worth they have, whose they truly are, what their eternal destiny is, that they are deeply loved by God. They are spiritually crippled.
Peter was sent as a messenger of Good News, of the Gospel. And so are we, you and me! Dare we – like St Peter - say to the people who are lost and lonely, who wander aimlessly through life looking to greed or pleasure or drugs or booze or some other thing to help them escape the loneliness and emptiness of their lives, dare we say to them, “Hey, Look at us”? Look at us.
And if they do, what will they see? Will they see Good News?
People all over the world love to look at Pope Francis. Catholics, other Christians, people of other faiths, people who are “spiritual but not religious”, even atheists, love to look at Pope Francis. Why? He is alive! He does not look bored. He may be angry and upset at how the poor are treated and at organized crime. He may be terribly sad at the loss of lives of people fleeing violence and poverty. But still he is alive. Because he has heard Good News. And he shows it. Look at him.
And so St. Peter says “Look at us.” Brothers and sisters that is what we are called to say as well. Announcing “Look at us,” to all the spiritually crippled in our lives. Dare we say that? What will they see if they do look? Will they see Christians alive with hope and faith and love and generosity and peace and joy? They should.
That is what the crippled man in the Gospel saw when he looked at Peter and John. Peter took him by the hand and raised him up. And when the man was healed what did he do? Did he run home and tell his family? Did he go to the mall and buy some new shoes that he now needed? Did he get on 24-hour cable news and tell his remarkable story? NO! The first reading states: “He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.” For he was healed not only in his limbs, but in his heart. And so the first thing he does is go into the temple to praise and thank God. He has truly been healed of a confused, meaningless, pointless life. He has been healed to worship and praise God.
Today we celebrate two great Apostles, Sts Peter and Paul. They were heralds of the Good News. They are examples and inspirations for us. For we too are called to go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Happy Feast Day!