Today is the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul. And while we celebrate both saints today, I’m giving Peter a little bit more emphasis personally because he is my patron for the year.
After Jesus, Peter is my absolute FAVORITE person in the Bible. When I studied the Gospel of Matthew in Bible Study Fellowship, our teaching leader mentioned frequently that Peter was a very impulsive man. That was putting it rather mildly. The man dropped everything (as did the other apostles) to follow Jesus. And he was the one who had the impulsivity (or courage, you know, it could be said that way too) to answer when Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am, ” (Matthew 16:15 when the other apostles listed who others said who He was in today’s Gospel reading. And wouldn’t you know, he was right.
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”–Matthew 16:16
But that same impulse control issue could be a liability as well as a strength. It gave poor Peter a case of verbal diarrhea after witnessing the Transfiguration. James and John are struck dumb and Peter, well Peter can’t shut up with suggestions! And as the priest on EWTN said during his homily this morning at mass, at one point, Peter’s lack of a filter caused Jesus to call him Satan (ouch!) (Matthew 16:23).
I think the reason I love Peter so much is that of all the humans in the Bible, he is the “human-est of the humans.” I mean they all screw up (Eve listened to a snake, Adam listened to Eve, Cain killed Abel, Aaron let the Israelites build a golden calf and worship it, Moses tested God…) but Peter, well, Peter was something special. You know that verse where Jesus calls him Satan, yeah that’s pretty much immediately after he said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and then Jesus changed his name to Peter and said he was the rock upon whom Jesus would build His church. That’s because Jesus told the apostles about his ensuing Passion, death and resurrection, Peter had something to say (of course he did) ” “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22) Not only that, but Peter had some kind of cojones because he took Jesus aside to rebuke Him scripture tells us. Peter scolded Jesus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said the right thing and kept right on going and undid all my goodness. And I argue with God. So, yeah, I’m pretty sure I understand why I identify with Peter. (grimace) And even after being called Satan, it was Peter who assured Jesus he would not abandon Him…only to do exactly what Jesus said he would. Deny Christ three times.
And while everything else is awkward and embarrassing, when Peter hears that cock crow for the third time, it is heart-breaking. (Matthew 26:74-75) Scripture tells us that Peter did not just cry, he wept. And he didn’t just weep, he wept bitterly. I am sure of all the tears I have ever shed in my lifetime and every minute of pain I have endured could not compare to what Peter felt in that moment. I don’t even think there are words to describe how Peter felt in that moment. Or the moments afterward.
Similarly, when Peter recognized the Lord on the beach, he jumped out of the boat and ran toward Him, I doubt the feeling he felt then can be described (John 21). Unlike Judas, who also betrayed Christ, Peter did not run away from Jesus any of the times He appeared to the Apostles and he even ran toward Him. And that inspires me like nothing else in the Bible. How many times to I avoid Confession, do I avoid asking God’s forgiveness? But thinking of Peter running toward Christ, jumping out of the boat abandoning his nets (just has he had when Jesus first called him–Matthew 4:18) to follow Him to become a Fisher of Men, that, that inspires me to run toward Him. And it is after that Jesus undoes that awful betrayal and this exchange occurs:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19)
And just like that, just like when Peter was first called into apostle-ship, he was given the same command, “Follow me.” And Peter doesn’t argue with Jesus when Jesus tells Peter how he will die (in the same horrific manner as Christ). Peter obeys just as he did the first time, he feeds the sheep.
Peter had nothing if not moxie and faith to get by on and God’s grace was more than sufficient. Jesus didn’t choose the scribes or pharisees. He did not choose a high priest to lead His people, He created the new priesthood out of a man that society didn’t notice at all. He equipped the man He chose. Peter had the faith to go out and preach to the Jews and baptize and convert them, following the instruction of Jesus he learned early on,”do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say.For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19-20)
So when I read this quote by Flannery O’Connor, I completely embrace St Peter and the men who succeeded him as leaders of the Church, the men the Holy Spirit chose just as Christ chose Peter:
“The church is founded on Peter who denied Christ three times and couldn’t walk on water by himself. You are expecting his successors to walk on the water. All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful…Human nature is so faulty that it can resist any amount of grace and most of the time it does. The Church does well to hold her own; you are asking that she show a profit. When she shows a profit, you have a saint.”
Peter was just a fisherman but with God’s grace, He became more. God used all that Peter had, all that impulsivity, and made him a fisher of men, a shepherd to lead the sheep. Peter shows us the power of God’s grace when we allow Him to bestow it on us.
I’m just a mom, St Peter pray that God uses me, that His grace changes me and that I do not resist it. Today, and always.