ROME – Pope Francis marked Monday’s feast of Saints Peter and Paul stressing the importance of unity in the Church and allowing oneself to be challenged by God, urging Catholics to spend less time complaining about what they see going wrong, and more time in prayer.

He began his homily noting that the feast of Peter and Paul celebrates two different men who were very different and “could argue heatedly,” but who “saw one another as brothers, as happens in close-knit families where there may be frequent arguments but unfailing love.”

God, he said, “did not command us to like one another, but to love one another. He is the one who unites us, without making us all alike.”

Pointing to Herod’s persecution of Christians in the early days of the Church, Francis noted that “at that dramatic moment, no one complained about Herod’s evil and his persecution.”

“It is pointless, even tedious, for Christians to waste their time complaining about the world, about society, about everything that is not right,” he said, adding that, “Complaints change nothing.”

Instead of “casting blame,” the early Christians prayed, he said. “In that community, no one said: ‘If Peter had been more careful, we would not be in this situation.’ No, they did not complain about Peter; they prayed for him.”

“They did not talk about Peter behind his back; they talked to God,” he said, urging people to ask themselves whether they are “protecting” the unity of the Church with prayer, and what would happen if they complained less and prayed more.

Noting that Saint Paul encouraged Christians to pray especially for those who govern, he said, “This is a task that the Lord has entrusted to us. Are we carrying it out? Or do we simply talk and do nothing?”

“God expects that when we pray we will also be mindful of those who do not think as we do, those who have slammed the door in our face, those whom we find it hard to forgive,” the pope said, adding, “Only prayer unlocks chains, only prayer paves the way to unity.”

Saints Peter and Paul are the co-patrons of the city of Rome, and June 29 is a city holiday, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the celebrations have been cancelled.

The feast is also being marked in a low-key manner in the Church. Newly appointed archbishops haven’t traveled to Rome to receive their pallium – a white wool garment worn around the neck of metropolitan archbishops.

Under a change made by Pope Francis, the metropolitans would be handed the pallium by the pope, and then would have it placed on them at a later date by the apostolic nuncio during a liturgy in their archdiocesan cathedral. This year, the liturgical garment will instead be sent directly to the papal representatives in their home countries.

This year also marks the first time that the ecumenical delegation from the Orthodox Church of Constantinople was not present for the feast in over 50 years, a custom that began after the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem in 1965.

In his homily, Pope Francis said the exchange of visits with the Ecumenical Patriarchate on their respective feast days is not just “out of courtesy, but as a means of journeying together towards the goal that the Lord points out to us: That of full unity.”

Turning back to the figures of Peter and Paul, he noted that both were challenged by Jesus, and that their responses led to a fundamental change in each.

For each, Jesus’s challenges were followed by prophecies, he said. In Peter’s case, it was: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church”; and, for Paul it was: “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.”

“Prophecy is born whenever we allow ourselves to be challenged by God, not when we are concerned to keep everything quiet and under control,” he said, adding, “When the Gospel overturns certainties, prophecy arises. Only someone who is open to God’s surprises can become a prophet.”

“Today we need prophecy, real prophecy: not fast talkers who promise the impossible, but testimonies that the Gospel is possible,” he said. “What is needed are not miraculous shows, but lives that show the miracle of God’s love. Not forcefulness, but forthrightness. Not palaver, but prayer. Not speeches, but service. Not theory, but testimony.”

As Christians, “we are not to become rich, but rather to love the poor. We are not to save up for ourselves, but to spend ourselves for others. To seek not the approval of this world, but the joy of the world to come. Not better pastoral plans, but pastors who offer their lives.”

Just as God transformed Simon into Peter and Saul into Paul, “so he is calling each one of us, in order to make us living stones with which to build a renewed Church and a renewed humanity,” Francis said, adding, “There are always those who destroy unity and stifle prophecy, yet the Lord believes in us and he asks you: ‘Do you want to be a builder of unity? Do you want to be a prophet of my heaven on earth?’”

“Let us be challenged by Jesus, and find the courage to say to him: ‘Yes, I do!’” he said.

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