On June 29, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul — the patrons of our diocese. These two men were, unquestionably, the greatest leaders of the early Church, yet both were brutally honest about their own weaknesses and shortcomings.
Since St. Mark was a disciple of St. Peter, it is said that Mark’s Gospel is actually the Gospel that Peter preached during his ministry. And yet, Mark’s Gospel doesn’t hide any of Peter’s failings. Mark records Peter’s denials of Jesus on Holy Thursday night; he records Peter’s failure to believe in the resurrection when he was first told about it; he even records the scene at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Peter also wrote two New Testament letters. He begins the second one with these revealing words: “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ.” Simon, you will recall, was his name before he met Jesus; thus it was a name that signified for Peter his human weakness. So even though he was now Peter, the first pope and the rock upon which the Church was built, at the same time in his own mind he was still “Simon” — the weak, frail, human sinner. And yes, he was an apostle — the chief of the apostles — but at the same time he was also a “doulos” — a slave (of Christ).
St. Paul saw himself from a similar vantage point. In his first letter to Timothy, chapter 1, he says of himself: “I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man filled with arrogance”; a little later in that same chapter he calls himself “the worst of sinners”.
That was not unusual for Paul. He did something similar in 1 Corinthians 15 and in 2 Corinthians 12.
We live in a world right now where most leaders are unwilling to admit they do anything wrong. To admit one’s error or weakness is not considered by them to be politically expedient. Perhaps, if these men and women learned to follow the humble — and honest — example of Saints Peter and Paul, more of us would actually take what they say seriously.