When the Roman emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the early 4th Century, he built basilicas over the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. The church over St. Paul’s tomb proved too small and was rebuilt and dedicated about sixty years later. Today’s feast celebrates the dedication of these two important churches and also honors the memory of these two great apostles. Let us pray today for the successor to St. Peter, Pope Benedict, who travels to Benin, Africa today to sign and publish the Apostolic Exhortation he wrote after the 2009 Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. May his visit bring hope to that continent for which we are praying in our Mission Intention this month. Our reflection is from another pope, St. Leo the Great, who said the following in a sermon on today’s saints.
The Church is not diminished by persecutions, but rather increased. The field of the Lord is always being enriched with a more abundant harvest, while the seeds which are sown one by one yield a manifold return. From this field those two famous shoots of the divine seed burst forth into a great progeny, witnessed by thousands of blessed martyrs. … On the commemoration of all the saints it is right for us to rejoice in this heavenly band, fashioned by God as models of patience and a support for our faith; but we must glory and exult even more in the eminence of these two forbears, whom the grace of God raised to so high a summit among all the members of the Church, and established like two eyes that bring light to the body whose head is Christ.
As to their merits and virtues, which no words can describe, we should not think of any difference or distinction between them; their calling was the same, their labors were similar, theirs was a common death. Our experience has shown, as our predecessors have proved, that we may believe and hope that in all the labors of the present life, by the mercy of God, we shall always be helped by the prayers of our special patrons. Just as we are humbled by our own sins, so we shall be raised up by the merits of these apostles.