NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD
The parish church of Queen of Angels is one of the architectural treasures of the Archdiocese. Often we have visitors to our parish, whether they come from outside of Chicago to visit family, or just someone walking into the church off the street, who comment on how beautiful our church is. When looking at the beautiful wooden altar, many times people ask about the two saints that are hand carved into the altar.
The two saints are St. Peter and St. Paul, two pillars of the Church and responsible for much of the spread of early Christianity, including the founding of the Church in Rome.
According to tradition, both met martyrs’ deaths in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero. This week the Church commemorates the martyrdom of these two great saints, without whom we would probably not have our Christian faith.
St. Peter (on the left side of the altar) is pictured holding a large key and a book. In Saint Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 16:13-20), Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” It is Simon Peter who proclaims, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus tells Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 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. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
In this passage, Jesus refers to Peter as a rock upon which he will build his Church. Indeed, the name Peter is derived from the Latin word petrus, which means rock. St. Peter holds the key as a symbol of the authority that Jesus gives him. The book that he holds is the Book of Canon Law (the law of the Church).
It is undisputed that St. Peter lived and preached in Rome, along with St. Paul, in the later part of his life. Tradition has it that St. Peter was crucified upside down, as he himself had wished to suffer. He was buried in a cemetery over which St. Peter’s Basilica would later be built. The location of his remains was kept by Christian tradition.
St. Paul (on the right side of the altar) is pictured holding a sword and a rolled up parchment. In his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:10-17) St. Paul tells us, “In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Ever since the day of Paul’s powerful conversion to Christ on the road to Damascus he fought his battles in life with the gospel referring to it as “his sword”. The rolled up parchment and the sword that St. Paul holds in his hands symbolize that word of God that gave him strength. St. Paul has handed that word of God down to us in written form in his writing in the New Testament. St. Paul encourages us to learn the word of God and put it into effect more deeply in our lives as he did.
St. Paul made many journeys in life to spread the message of Jesus and founded many Church communities. He ended his life in Rome where he was martyred for his faith. As a Roman citizen he was probably put to death by being beheaded with a sword. He was buried in a cemetery outside the city of Rome over which is built the magnificent basilica of St. Paul Outside the Wall. Like the burial place of St. Peter, the location of St. Paul’s remains was kept by Christian tradition.