Saint Peter: The First Pope

Feast Day: 29 June

Saint Peter is one of the pillars of the Church and a prominent person in the New Testament. Originally called Simon, he was a fisherman who lived in the village of Capernaum on the shores of Lake Galilee. Whatever Peter’s life was like before, it was turned upside down by Jesus.

The story goes that Jesus called Peter to follow him and Peter did not hesitate; he left everything and embarked on an incredible journey of discovery. He was chosen to be one of the Twelve and one could say that he was the first among equals.

To him did Jesus give the ‘Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven’ with the authority to bind and loose in heaven and on earth. He was re-christened ‘Peter’ which means ‘rock’ on which Jesus would build His Church. Thus, Saint Peter was the first Pope.

Peter is a multi-faceted person who resolutely follows Christ but has some ‘hiccups’ along the way. He is uncertain sometimes and afraid. But he is constantly thinking about his relationship with Jesus. He is not afraid to voice out his doubts and ask for clarifications. He asks Jesus to explain the meaning of the parables.

When Jesus speaks about his impending passion and death, he tries to dissuade Jesus from the path of suffering and death. But he is given an earful by the Lord “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me!” Peter shows he does not fully understand the nature of Jesus’ Messiahship.

Throughout the gospel narratives, Peter seems so near and yet so far from understanding Jesus’ message and yet he is consistently portrayed not only as one of the chosen 12 but as one of Jesus’ most intimate group of three or four. Peter quickly progresses from a stumbling block to being the ‘Rock’ of the Church.

Peter gets more ‘air-time’ than the other apostles in the Gospels and is often the spokesperson for the group. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks Peter. Peter, in his usual spontaneous self, replies “You are Christ, the Son of the Living God.” At the time of Jesus’ arrest and passion, he flees away in fear, but what differentiates Peter from Judas is that he repents and turns back to the Lord. The gaze of Jesus breaks his heart.

One stormy night after the Resurrection, the disciples are battling the waves as they cross the lake, when they see Jesus walking towards them on the water. Peter recognises the Lord and asks Him to beckon him toward Himself. Peter takes a few steps towards Jesus on the water but fear and doubt make him sink. Peter is remembered in this episode for his lack of faith but, although he failed he was the only one to try.

After the Ascension of Jesus, Peter performs his role beautifully as the leader of the fledgling Christian community. He does so with courage and fearlessness, a sign that Peter has now truly understood his faith and the true nature of Jesus’ Lordship.

He brought thousands over to the faith through his fearless preaching and witness. Tradition has it that Peter was martyred by being crucified upside down so as not to be equated with the Lord’s Death.

I sometimes think of Saint Peter as the patron saint of the simple, of those who are thinking and grappling about their faith. He was not a perfect disciple, quite the opposite in fact, but Christ saw his future potential. Simple at heart and though lacking in courage a bit at the start, he was nonetheless loyal to Jesus and loved Him with all his heart. His was a ‘faith seeking understanding’.

We too can be weak and fall many times along the way, but St Peter teaches us how to pick ourselves up and faithfully walk towards Christ. If we do that, we will one day reach heaven’s doors where St Peter will be waiting for us.