Saints and Theology of the Heart - St. Peter, Apostle

Prince of the Apostles
First Pope

Solemnity: June 29
Feast shared with St. Paul

Also Feast of the Chair of St. Peter: February 22

See also:
Readings from the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter
"The martyrs realized what they taught"- sermon of St. Augustine
St. Peter's basilica- virtual tour

Saint Peter, Apostle – Peter is mentioned frequently in the New Testament, in the Gospels and in the Epistles of St. Paul.  His name appears 182 times. 

The only thing we know about his life before his call by the Lord is that he was born in Bethsaida, along the lake of Tiberius and moved to Capernaum, where he dedicated himself to fishing, along with James and john, the sons of Zebedee.  There is evidence that suggests that Andrew (Peter’s brother) and possibly Peter as well were followers of John the Baptist, and in this way their hearts had been prepared to receive the Messiah. We can imagine Peter as an astute and simple man, with a great power for the good, but at times afflicted by an abrupt and tempestuous character that had to be transformed by Christ through suffering.

Our first encounter with Peter is in the beginning of the ministry of Jesus.  “As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. (Mt. 4:19-20) A little after this, we learn that he visited the house of Peter where his mother-n-law, suffering from a fever, was cured by Jesus.  It was the first cure witnessed by Peter, who would be present for many miracles during the three years of the public ministry of Jesus, always listening, observing, asking and learning. 

Profession of faith and the primacy of Peter

The risen Christ is the foundation of the Church, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ.”  (1 Cor 3:11)  Nevertheless, the same Jesus desired that his Church have a visible foundation, that would be Peter and his successors.  Jesus presents the singular vocation of Peter in the image of the solid rock.  Peter=petrus=quefá (english=latin=aramaic) He is the first one that Jesus calls and names him the rock upon which he will build his Church.  Peter is the first Pope and he received the authority of the supreme pontificate from Jesus Christ himself.  The Petrine ministry secures the foundations that guarantee the indefectibility of the Church through time and trials.  The boat of the fisherman of Galilee is now the Church of Christ.  His fish are now men. 

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"  They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
(Mt 16: 13-19)

To give the keys means to entrust authority over the Church with the power to govern, of permitting and prohibiting.  But it does not mean to govern as the world understands, but is rather a function of the service of love.  “The greatest among you must be your servant.” (Mt 23:11).

Some moments from Scripture in which Peter appears 

After the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus sent the disciples ahead of him.  Following is the account of Matthew:  “Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. "It is a ghost," they said, and they cried out in fear. At once (Jesus) spoke to them, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter said to him in reply, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14: 22-31)

Peter was among the three disciples closest to Jesus.  He was chosen, along with James and John, to go up Mount Tabor and witness the Transfiguration.  There he contemplated the glory of the Lord and heard the proclamation of God the Father, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: listen to Him.”  (Mt. 17:1-5)  After this they began to travel to Jerusalem, and Jesus began to reveal to his disciples the violent manner in which he would die.  Peter took him aside to insist that it could not happen in this way, but Jesus strongly rebuked him. (Mt 16:22-23)

When all were united in the Last Supper, Peter declared his loyalty and devotion with these words: “Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.”And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times.” But Peter kept saying insistently, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” (Mk 14:29-31) By the end of this tragic night, his prophecy had been fulfilled.  When the soldiers took Jesus to the Jews, Peter remained outside the house in the courtyard.  Three times he was accused of being a disciple of Jesus, and he denied it each time.  At that exact moment, the cock crowed and Peter began to weep, remembering the words of Jesus.  (Mk 14:66-72, Lk 22:54-62, Jn 18:15-18)

Peter is a repentant sinner.  Christ forgave him and confirmed his choice.  Jesus asked him, “Peter, do you love me more tan these?” (Jn 21,15). Peter affirms his love three times.  Jesus responds, ‘Feed my sheep”, a sign of his mission as the universal shepherd of the Church.  His ministry is sustained thanks to the power of Christ, who prays for him.  “I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers" (Lk 22:32). It is Christ, the Good Shepherd, who entrusts his power to forgive sins, consecrate, teach and give witness.   

Peter exercises his primacy among the Apostles with integrity and courage.  He was “the rock” upon which the Church was founded.  His capacity for conversion makes him an exemplary example for all of us sinners.  Peter fell very far the night he denied the Lord.  Then he repented and arose to become the Bishop of Rome, a martyr and “guardian of the keys of the kingdom of heaven”. 

We see him as the head of the Apostles.  It was Peter who took the initiative to elect one to take the place of Judas and who obtained the first miracle after the resurrection.  A beggar was asking for money.  Peter told him that he did not have money, but what he did have he would give.  He then commanded him to rise in the name of Jesus, the Nazorean: the beggar stood and entered the temple with the two disciples to praise the Lord. 
The spread of Christianity led to persecutions, in which St. Stephen and many of the Christians were martyred or forced to go into hiding.  The apostles remained strong in Jerusalem, where the Jewish leaders were their worst persecutors.  Peter decided to preach surrounding towns, and kept going further to do so. 

For his sincerity, Peter inevitably had many conflicts with the Jewish authorities, and two times the chief priests commanded him to be arrested.  Scripture tells us that he was miraculously freed from his chains and set free from the prison; he surprised the other apostles by arriving at the door of the place where they were staying, interceding on his behalf.  Peter them preached in the sea ports of Joppa and Lydda, where he met men of different races and in Caesarea he converted his first gentile, Cornelius. 

He was bishop of Antioch and then went to bishop of Rome, where he was martyred during the reign of Nero around the year 67, the same year as St. Paul.  This date is based on the estimation of three Church Fathers; Saint Ireneus, St. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian.  He was buried in what is the Vatican today, where his remains still rest directly beneath the main altar of the St. Peter’s Basilica This fact has been proven in the archeological investigations and was announced by Pope Pius XII at the conclusion of the holy year of 1950. 

Martyrdom of St. Peter

Saint Peter was a martyr by crucifixion.  He did not consider himself worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord and so they crucified him upside down.  The exact place of his crucifixion was kept in tradition.  The Christians of Rome buried Saint Peter very close to Nero’s circus.   The words of Jesus were completed exactly “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18)

There are archeological witnesses of the necropolis (Roman burial ground) with the tomb of St. Peter, directly under the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica.  This site has been venerated since the second century.  A small monument from 160 AD reads in Greek, “Peter is here.”

Many writings have been found in the catacombs in which the names Saint Peter and Saint Paul and written together, showing that popular devotion to these two great apostles began in the first centuries.  Very ancient paintings depict Saint Peter as a man of short stature, energetic, with curly hair and a beard.  In art he is traditionally represented with a boat, keys and the rooster. 

Today the Pope continues the Petrine ministry as the universal shepherd of the Church of Christ.  Having learned of the origins of his office, we ought to renew our fidelity to the Pope as the successor of Peter.

The only writing we have from St. Peter are his two epistles in the New Testament.  We think that both were directed toward the converts in Asia Minor.  The First Epistle in full of admonitions to charity, availability and humility, and in general of the duties of the Christian life.  In the conclusion, Peter sends greetings “from the Church in Babylonia”.  This shows that the epistle was written from Rome, which was called ‘Babylon” by the Jews of that time.  The second epistle deals with false doctrines, speaks of the second coming of the Lord and concludes with a beautiful doxology. “But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory now and to the day of eternity. “  (2 Peter 3:18)



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