Peter and Paul & the Unity of Faith

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Tomorrow at St. Peter's in Rome, Archbishop Tobin of Indianapolis, along with all those named a metropolitan archbishop within the last year, will receive the pallium from Pope Francis. In the Western Church, the pallium is a narrow band of white wool decorated with six small crosses with two attached lappets hanging down, one in the front and one in the back, worn around the neck over the archbishop’s Mass vestments.

The pallium is traditionally bestowed on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul as a sign of the unity of faith that the new archbishops, as well as all believers, share in the Catholic Church, manifested most clearly in the person of the pope, the bishop of Rome.

These two great apostles, Peter and Paul, sought in their work to constantly maintain the unity of the early Church. Peter was given his name Petrus, meaning “Rock,” by Jesus in the account from Matthew 16:18, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” In John’s gospel, in one of the beautiful post-resurrection stories, we hear Jesus’ three-time admonition to Peter to “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15-19). Jesus himself in the great “priestly prayer” of John 17 prays that all may “be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21).  In the Acts of the Apostles we have numerous accounts of the early Church’s efforts to maintain its unity in the midst of serious discussions regarding doctrine and practice.

 St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians chastises the Christian community about the divisions in their midst:

I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are   rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1Cor. 1:10-13)

Later on the same letter Paul writes:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord.… But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes. As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. (1Cor. 12: 4-6, 11-13)

Why is this unity so important? Theologically it speaks to the heart of the Christian faith, the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into which we were all baptized. Pastorally, a unity of faith and a unity of mission allows us to spread the Good News without confusion. Individually, the unity of faith helps us to know who we are and in what we believe. So tomorrow, on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, let our prayer be that of Jesus “that all may be one.”

Bishop Christopher Coyne

About Bishop Christopher Coyne

Bishop Christopher Coyne serves the Church as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Ordained a priest in 1986 and a bishop in 2011, he is a former Professor of Sacred Liturgy and Preaching at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, MA, having received his doctorate from the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy at St. Anselmo in Rome. He is also a former director of the Office for Worship for the Archdiocese of Boston and later, media spokesperson and Cabinet Secretary for Communications of the Archdiocese of Boston. Follow him on Twitter @bishopcoyne