Profile of St. Peter

"Occasionally Naive and Fearful, Yet Honest and Capable of Repentance"

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 17, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at today's general audience, which he dedicated to the spiritual journey of "Peter the fisherman."



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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In the new series of catecheses we have tried to understand above all what the Church is, what the Lord's idea is about this new family. Then we said that the Church exists in people, and we have seen that the Lord entrusted this new reality, the Church, to the Twelve Apostles. Now we wish to contemplate them one by one, to understand through these persons what it means to live in the Church, to follow Christ. We begin with St. Peter.

After Jesus, Peter is the most known and quoted personality in the New Testament: He is mentioned 154 times with the nickname "Petros," "stone," "rock," which is the Greek translation of the Aramaic name that Jesus gave him directly, "Kefa," witnessed on nine occasions, especially in Paul's letters. Also to be added, moreover, is the name Simon, used frequently (75 times), which is the form adapted to the Greek of his original Hebrew name, Simeon (twice: Acts 15:14; 2 Peter 1:1).

Son of John (cf. John 1:42) or, in the Aramaic form, "bar-Jona," son of Jonas (cf. Matthew 16:17), Simon was from Bethsaida (John 1:44), a town that was located east of the Sea of Galilee, from which Philip also came and, of course, Andrew, Simon's brother. His accent when speaking was Galilean.

Like his brother, he was a fisherman: With the family of Zebedee, father of James and John, he headed a small fishing business on the Lake of Gennesaret (cf. Luke 5:10). For this reason, he must have enjoyed a certain financial ease and was animated by a sincere religiosity that moved him to go with his brother to Judea, to follow the preaching of John the Baptist (John 1:35-42).

He was a faithful Jew, who believed in God's active presence in the history of his people, and was pained at not seeing His powerful action in the events of which he was, at that time, a witness. He was married and his mother-in-law, cured one day by Jesus, lived in the city of Capernaum, in the house where Simon also stayed, when he was in that city (cf. Matthew 8:14ff; Mark 1:29ff; Luke 4:38ff).

Recent archaeological excavations have made it possible to bring out into the light, under the mosaic floor of octagonal shape of a small Byzantine church, the remains of a more ancient church, built in that house, as attested by the graffiti with invocations to Peter. The Gospels tell us that Peter was among the first four disciples of the Nazarene (cf. Luke 5:1-11), to whom was added a fifth in keeping with the custom of the rabbis to have five disciples (cf. Luke 5:27: the calling of Levi). When Jesus went from five to 12 disciples, the novelty of his mission became clear: He was not one of the many rabbis, but had come to gather the eschatological Israel, symbolized by the number 12, the number of the tribes of Israel.

Simon appears in the Gospels with a strong and impulsive character; he is ready to make his opinions felt, even by force (he used the sword in the Garden of Olives, cf. John 18:10ff). At the same time, he is also occasionally naive and fearful, yet honest and capable of sincere repentance (cf. Matthew 26:75). The Gospels allows us to follow his spiritual itinerary step by step.

The starting point was the call by Jesus, which came on a day like any other, while Peter was busy at his work as a fisherman. Jesus was on the Lake of Gennesaret and the crowds surrounded him to hear him. The number of those listening to him created certain difficulties. The Master saw two boats by the lake. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He asked them if he could get into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and he asked him to put out a little from the land. He sat down on that improvised chair, and taught the people from the boat (cf. Luke 5:1-3).

Thus, Peter's boat became Jesus' chair. When he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets" (Luke 5:10). Jesus, who was a carpenter, was not a fishing expert and, yet, Simon the fisherman trusted this Rabbi, who gave him no answers but called on him to have faith.

His reaction to the miraculous catch was one of astonishment and trepidation: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). Jesus replied inviting him to have confidence and to be open to a project that would surpass all expectations. "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men" (Luke 5:10). Peter could not yet imagine that one day he would arrive in Rome and would be there a "fisher of men" for the Lord. He accepted this astonishing call to let himself be involved in this great adventure: He was generous; he recognized his limits but believed in the One Who called him and followed his heart. He said yes and became a disciple of Christ.

Peter experienced another significant moment on his spiritual journey near Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus posed a specific question to his disciples: "Who do men say that I am?" (Mark 8:27). For Jesus it was not enough to have a hearsay answer. He wanted the one who had accepted to commit himself personally to him, to take a personal stance. That is why he insisted: "But who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8:29). And it was Peter who replied on behalf of the others: "You are the Christ" (ibid.), that is, the Messiah.

This reply, which "flesh and blood has not revealed" but the Father who is in heaven (cf. Matthew 16:17), has within it the seed of the Church's future profession of faith. However, Peter had not yet understood the profound substance of Jesus' messianic mission, as became clear shortly afterward when he made it known that the Messiah he sought in his dreams was very different from God's plan. Faced with the announcement of the passion, he cried out and protested, arousing Jesus' strong reaction (cf. Mark 8:32-33).

Peter wanted as Messiah a "divine man," who fulfilled people's expectations, imposing his force upon everyone: We also want the Lord to impose his force and transform the world immediately; yet Jesus presented himself as the "human God," who overturned the expectations of the multitude by following the path of humility and suffering. It is the great alternative, which we also must learn again: to favor our own expectations rejecting Jesus or to accept Jesus in the truth of his mission and lay aside all too human expectations.

Peter, who is impulsive, does not hesitate to take him to one side and reprehend him. Jesus' response demolishes all false expectations, calling him to conversion and to follow him: "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God but of men" (Mark 8:33). Do not show me the way, I follow my way and you follow me.

Peter thus learned what following Jesus really means. It is the second call, as Abraham's in Genesis, Chapter 22, after that of Genesis, Chapter 12. "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:34-35). It is the exacting law to follow him: It is necessary to be able to deny oneself, if necessary, the whole world to save the true values, to save the soul, to save the presence of God in the world (cf. Mark 8:36-37). And though with difficulty, Peter accepted the invitation and continued his path in the footsteps of the Master.

I think that these different conversions of St. Peter and his whole figure are a motive of great consolation and a great teaching for us. We also desire God, we also want to be generous, but we also expect God to be strong in the world and that he transform the world immediately, according to our ideas and the needs we see.

God opts for another way. God chooses the way of the transformation of hearts in suffering and humility. And we, like Peter, must always be converted again. We must follow Jesus and not precede him. He shows us the way. Peter tells us: You think you have the recipe and that you have to transform Christianity, but the Lord is the one who knows the way. It is the Lord who says to me, who says to you, "Follow me!" And we must have the courage and humility to follow Jesus, as he is the way, the truth and the life.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Pope read the following summary in English:]

In our weekly catecheses, we have been considering the apostolic ministry as a form of service to the Church's communion in faith and in the living tradition that comes from the apostles. Today we begin to look at the individual apostles as they are portrayed in the New Testament, beginning with St. Peter.

A fisherman from Galilee, married, the brother of Andrew, Peter was chosen by the Lord as one of his first disciples. His strong, impulsive and openhearted character, and his deep religiosity are evident in the account of his calling.

Having fished all night and caught nothing, Peter trusted fully in Jesus' word, and, after witnessing the miraculous haul of fishes, accepted his call to follow him as a fisher of men (cf. Luke 5:10). At Caesarea Philippi, Peter speaks for the other disciples in acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:29), but he is scandalized when the Lord reveals that his mission will include suffering, rejection and death.

Peter must painfully learn the meaning of conversion and true discipleship, following in the footsteps of the Master by embracing the mystery of the cross.

[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I greet all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Canada and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke an abundance of joy and peace in the Risen Lord. May your stay in Rome be a happy one, filled with grace and blessings!

© Copyright 2006 -– Libreria Editrice Vaticana [adapted]