By Heather Walker
ROME —The Lay Centre welcomed the start of summer with an online Bible study June 23, organized for the Vatican Women’s Ambassadorial Association (VAWA).
VAWA members from as far as Argentina, Canada and Honduras gathered online for the one-hour Bible study to reflect on St. Peter’s experience of “lockdown” and his miraculous liberation (Acts 12:1-7), less than one week ahead of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, patron saints of Rome.
The lives of the two saints are celebrated together June 29, although they did not die on the same day, as they are both considered the founders of the See of Rome, they both journeyed to minister and to preach the Word of God, and they both were martyred in Rome.
The Bible study began informally, with the women greeting each other and trying to understand where each one was on the lockdown scale. Lay Centre Director Donna Orsuto invited the participants to listen to a Taizé chant "When The Night Becomes Dark" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJUIqheBLzI) as they began their reflection on the chosen passage.
After reading the passage in Spanish and Italian, Lay Centre Leadership Scholar Monica Prandi offered some historical insight into the political situation at the time. Orsuto guided the participants through the passage in English, with comments and reflections.
The Bible story is set in a time of crisis for the early Church. Members of the Church are being killed and persecuted. King Herod (Agrippa I), who even murdered James, “the brother of John,” arrests Peter, on the eve of Passover, and imprisons him “under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each.” However, “prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.”
We learn soon after that God heard and answered the prayer: “On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains … Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell.”
What happens next is nothing short of a miracle. The angel leads Peter out of his cell. He is “rescued,” delivered from his lockdown, and goes immediately to the house of the mother of John, where “many people were gathered in prayer,” to tell the news of his liberation. A maid answers the door, but does not invite him in. Instead, she runs inside to tell the good news. Initially they do not believe her, saying it must be an angel, but Peter reassures them and says, “Report this to James and the brothers.” Peter then continues his journey.
This passage echoes the details of the resurrection of Christ, such as the apparition of the angel at the empty tomb, the women at the tomb who share the good news of the resurrection with the Apostles, and Jesus being unrecognised by his disciples. These details reinforce the power of the resurrection.
Yet again, a woman is unexpectedly given an important role: Rhoda, the maid, answers the door to Peter and becomes the custodian of good news, going onto announce Peter’s release.
The overall theme of the Bible study focused on how we can journey together in this challenging time, praying for our safe release from lockdown, so that we can start our journey anew, as Peter did.
Photo: St. Peter in prison - Rembrandt van Rijn (Wikimedia Commons)