The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. (Acts, 12:6-7)
From The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger:
Rome, making a god out of the man who had subjugated her, consecrated the month of August to Caesar Augustus. When Christ had delivered her, she placed at the head of this same month, as a trophy of her regained liberty, the Feast of the chains wherewith, in order to break hers, St. Peter the Vicar of Christ had once been bound. O Divine Wisdom, Who hast a better claim to reign over this month than had the adopted son of Caesar, Thou couldst not have more authentically inaugurated Thy Empire. Strength and sweetness are the attributes of Thy works, and it is in the weakness of Thy chosen ones that Thou dost triumph over the powerful. Thou Thyself, in order to give us life, didst swallow death; Simon, son of John, became a captive, to set free the world entrusted to him. First Herod, and then Nero, showed him the cost of the promise he had once received, of binding and loosing on earth as in Heaven: he had to share the love of the Supreme Shepherd, even to allowing himself, like Him, to be bound with chains for the sake of the flock, and be led “where he would not.
Glorious chains! never will you make St. Peter’s successors tremble any more than St. Peter himself; before the Herods and Neros and Caesars of all ages you will be the guarantee of the liberty of souls.
The irons which had bound the arms of St. Peter, without being able to bind the word of God, were also after his martyrdom treasured more than jewels and gold. From Antioch in Syria, St. John Chrysostom, thinking with holy envy of the lands enriched by these trophies of triumphant bondage, cried out in a sublime transport:
“What more magnificent than these chains? Prisoner for Christ is a more beautiful name than that of Apostle, Evangelist, or Doctor. To be bound for Christ’s sake is better than to dwell in the heavens; to sit upon the twelve thrones is not so great an honor. He that loves can understand me; but who can better understand these things than the holy choir of Apostles? As for me, if I were offered my choice between these chains and the whole of Heaven, I should not hesitate; for in them is happiness. Would that I were now in those places, where it is said the chains of these admirable men are still kept! If it were given me to be set free from the care of this church, and if I had a little health, I should not hesitate to undertake such a voyage only to see St. Paul’s chains. If they said to me: which would you prefer—to be the angel who delivered St. Peter or St. Peter himself in chains? I would rather be St. Peter, because of his chains.”
From the throne where thou, St. Peter, reignest with the Man-God in Heaven, as thou didst follow Him on earth in trials and anguish, loosen our bands, which—alas—are not glorious ones such as thine; break these fetters of sin which bind us to Satan, these ties of all the passions which prevent us from soaring towards God. The world, more than ever enslaved in the infatuation of its false liberties which make it forget the only true freedom, demands more “rights” now than in the times of pagan Caesars: be once more its deliverer, now that thou art more powerful than ever. May Rome, especially, now fallen the lower because precipitated from a greater height, learn again the emancipating power which lies in thy chains; they had become a rallying standard for her faithful children not long ago. Make good the word once uttered by her poets, that “encircled with these chains, she will ever be free”.
CP&S Comment: On this feast day when the Church celebrates the breaking of Peter’s chains, finally setting him free from those remaining traces binding him to fears and worldly values, may we join in praying for our present Holy Father for his own “chains” to be broken. (G.K. Chesterton: “These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.”)