Celebrating Peter & Paul in a tent not very far from the sea

Feasts, like those connected with saints Peter and Paul are  doorways to the ancient past. Hear the history of these observances, such as today’s feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, from a really inspired speaker — Bishop John M. Smith — and in no time, the contemporary landscape fades from view and you see (I swear it) the ancient Rome these apostles saw so long ago when they came to the center of the world bearing the gift of the Word.

That’s how it seemed last night at the annual Good News International Tent Meeting at St. Veronica Parish, Howell, as Bishop Smith preached a homily on this great feast. Hundreds of faithful got a sense a of the perilous sea  journeys Peter and Paul undertook to the fabled city on seven hills and walked with them down the cobblestone streets of Rome where, after two millenniums, their memory is revered.  Listening to Bishop Smith, those at the Mass were able to follow  along with the apostles, winding their way through dark allies and into carved out tunnels to practice their faith free of persecution.

The bishop communicated a sense of the danger that dogged them but never derailed their determination to share their great faith. And, you could see that they were visibly moved by his descriptions of a biblical landscape that is still there, still lined with roads trod on by Peter and Paul. He painted a picture of living stones that included sites where they preached and where they died and where they are buried and proclaimed once again that their story real and it goes back, as he is fond of saying, to the beginning!

Now I have heard Bishop Smith tell that story before and it gets better every time. One of the real gifts of working for The Monitor over the years, has been hearing Bishop Smith preach on all aspects of our Catholic identity and heritage at liturgies and share his great historical insight on the roots of our faith and its development. 

Last night, he touched all the bases.

As a gentle wind cascaded over the fields around the tent meeting, cooling the air a bit and kids played baseball in the lingering twilight on this long summer night, he spoke of the importance of this feast celebrating the two founders of the See of Rome through their preaching, ministry and martyrdom there.

He explained the lineage of both apostles, their linkage as followers of the Lord, their human weaknesses, their God given roles as shepherds of Jesus’ flock after he left the earth.

This feast, he explained, is one of the oldest, with evidence of celebrating the solemnities of the two martyrs together as early as the year 258.

Indeed, reseaching for this entry turned up a sermon in the year 395, St. Augustine of Hippo said of Sts. Peter and Paul: “Both apostles shared the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they sufferent on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed and so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching and their confession of faith.”

Learn more about the feast at http://www.wf-f.org/StsPeterPaul.html and for heavenly delight on this day dedicated to the two apostles, take a leap of faith and go to http://www.stpetersbasilica.org/ a phenomenal web site where you can literally tour Saint Peters Basilica. Check out a different link to the same site http://www.saintpetersbasilica.org/Exterior/StPaulStatue/StPaulStatue.htm for a glimpse at the statues of Peter and Paul at St. Peter’s which which so compelled my attention on a visit to the basilica.

When it comes to food on this splendid day, I think of Peter the fisherman and Paul the sea farer and turn to the sea for the menu. Turning to the fruits of New Jersey’s waters and fields once again, mussels in light and tasty tomato sauce seemed a good choice. I cooked it at home and brought it in to the Pastoral Center so that graphic artist Jeanne Scarpato could take its close up.

Then, we ate it.

I’m happy to report that Bishop joined us for lunch at the table in the lunchroom on this feast day and seemed to enjoy the mussels and took obvious delight — as did we all — in the small cupcakes Jeanne baked in honor of the day. I’m going to beg her for the recipe.      

Mussels ala Romagna

Ingredients: 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil; 3 large cloves garlic, sliced very thin; 1 large bulb fennel thinly sliced with some fronds included for color; 1/4 cup dry white wine; 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (look for the canned Jersey tomatoes now available in most supermarkets) 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon (my herb of choice this summer); sea salt and pepper to taste; 2 pounds mussels scrubbed well.

Directions: Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and fennel and cook until soft – about 4 minutes. Add the salt and pepper and stir occasionally for a minute or two then add the wine and boil to reduce slightly. Add the tomatoes and tarragon, then cover the pot and simmer until the fennel is tender — about 15 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup water and then add the mussels. Raise the heat to high, cover and cook until the mussels open — usually 5 miunutes. Transfer all the mussels to a large serving bowl, discarding any that do not open. Adjust the seasonings to the sauce and then pour over the mussels. Serve with thick, crusty Italian bread.


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