There were in St. Elizabeth’s all the accoutrements you might expect to find in a grand-scale Catholic church; it was just that the statues of the saints, the stations of the cross, the devotional banners and icons, and the stained-glass windows had been shrunk to fit. The dense, brown-black pieces in the sanctuary — altar, pulpit, and framed crucifix — bordered on the ornate and would not have been out of place within the stone confines of a Gothic cathedral. But here, spotless wood paneling covered the walls, warming the room and giving the tiny church a cozy feel. There was no choir loft — the ceiling was too low — and it was a good thing; the booming strains would have flooded the room. Instead, a few voices and an electric organ chirped a hymn set to the Ode to Joy:
“Sing with all the saints in glory/ Sing the resurrection song/ Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story/ To the former days belong.”
Sunday’s Mass was given to the recognition of two of those saints — Peter and Paul, patrons of Rome — in part because they were martyred there. “Peter was the vicar of Christ,” explained Father May, who was wearing red in honor of the pair’s shed blood. “Paul was Christ’s teacher to the people. Both would come to Rome, and there they would make their heroic witness.”
The Gospel reading explained May’s claim about Peter’s status: when Peter named Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus replied, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.... I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” In the first reading from Acts, an angel led Peter out from Herod’s prison, where he had been chained and under heavy guard. And so the responsorial psalm proclaimed, “The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.... When the poor one called out, the Lord heard/ And from all his distress he saved him.”
But Peter’s earthly triumph was tempered by Paul’s intimation of death in the second reading: “I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.... The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to the heavenly kingdom.” The final triumph, the triumph over death, would not take place in this world.
May’s homily sought to place Peter and Paul within the context of Salvation History, beginning at the beginning: “Out of God’s goodness and love, all creation has flowed, and therefore, His goodness is in all of creation. When He created the human family, and we, early on, had sinned, His goodness continually showed itself in His forgiveness and His giving us a new start.” He chose the Jews as “a people peculiarly his own” in order “to grow closer to us.... He chose weak human beings, and never gave up on them.” The apostles (perhaps especially Peter) were just such weak souls — they “did not begin as towers of strength either in knowledge or holiness...they were transformed heroically on Pentecost.... From our weakness, His power may reach perfection, turning us away from sin and enabling us to love as He loves.” Paul, meanwhile, was turned from persecuting “this new community of faith” to striving on its behalf, another example of God’s transforming power. Peter and Paul “show what God can and desires to do within us.”
June 28 marked the beginning of a jubilee year in honor of Paul’s birth, roughly 2000 years ago, and May offered this prayer at the end of Mass: “Glorious Saint Paul, most zealous apostle, martyr for the love of Christ, give us a deep faith, a steadfast hope, and a burning love for our Lord, so that we can claim with you, ‘It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. Help us to become apostles, serving the church...amidst the darkness of our days.”
May concluded with a tripartite blessing: “The Lord has set you firm within the Church, which He built upon the rock of Peter’s faith. May he bless you with a faith that never falters.”
“The Lord has given you knowledge of faith through the labors and preaching of Saint Paul. May his example inspire you to lead others to Christ by the manner of your life.”
“Amen,” replied the congregation.
“May the keys of Peter and the words of Paul, their undying witness and their prayers, lead you to the joy of that eternal hope which Peter gained by the cross and Paul by the sword.”
What happens when we die?
“Our hope is the fullness of the resurrection,” said May. “Going up to be with our Heavenly Father forever and ever.”
St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Address: 2814 B Street, Julian, 760-765-0613
Founded locally: 1949
Senior pastor: Anthony C. May
Congregation size: 60–70 families
Staff size: 1
Sunday school enrollment: 30
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: $1100-$1300
Singles program: no
Diversity: Caucasian and Hispanic
Sunday worship: 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 50 minutes