If anyone wants to know whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead he/she need look no further than the two men we celebrate today. Peter denied Jesus and ran away on Good Friday. Paul persecuted the early church and even applauded the killing of Stephen. What could make two such men become the mainstay of the new faith? Both had profound encounters with the risen Lord. Peter saw Jesus several times after Easter Sunday and experienced his forgiveness. From the day of Pentecost he was completely changed, utterly fearless and committed. Paul never met Jesus during his earthly life but as he was on his way to Damascus to seek out the followers of the Way Jesus intervened in his life in an unexpected manner. From that day forth, after he had been commissioned by Jesus to be the Apostle to the gentiles, Paul counted shipwreck, beatings, stoning, starvation and every other ill that befell him as "minor inconveniences." This is the effect that meeting the risen Lord has on us.
I remember standing on the Via Apia while on pilgrimage to Rome in 2004. The priest with us, Fr Peter Casey, told us something about Roman roads and how this road stretched the whole way down to the foot of Italy and there people took the boat to Palestine. He told us to look up and down the road....and then he said, "it was on this road the Peter and Paul walked to their martyrdom." In the church of St John Lateran, above the centre altar, encased in two gold suits of armour, are the heads of Peter and Paul. When we stand at the altar and look up we feel some inkling of the wonderful history that is our church...and today we celebrate two of the most important people in its founding years.