The Holy Apostles: St. Peter

Statue of St. Peter in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City
Statue of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City

So I feel like we’re at a bit of a crossroads.  I’ve talked us through all the prayers of the Mass, and we’ve just finished looking extensively at the heart of the Mass, the Eucharistic Prayers (I, II, and III).  So I figured the next step would be to talk about the saints, starting with the apostles!  We probably feel we know a lot about them from scripture, but are you aware of the wider traditions associated with them after Jesus?

Who better to start with than Peter, the first pope and Prince of the Apostles?  Originally, he was “Simon”, until Jesus changes his name, which is actually a pretty big deal!  In the Bible, only God has the authority to change names – like Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, and so on.  So Jesus tells Simon, “You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church.”  Jesus is pretty witty, actually, because Petrus (Latin) and Petros (Greek) actually mean “rock”!  As the first pope, Peter really is the rock – the unifier on which Jesus lays the stones of the Church.  He is usually pictured with keys, signifying that binding and loosing power that Jesus with the Church.

Now one of my pet peeves is when people, especially priests, make fun of Peter.  We always joke that he was impulsive and dumb, never seeming to get what Jesus was saying.  And those things are true, I guess.  But St. Peter is an incredibly brave example of faith!  After the Resurrection, he preached in Jerusalem for a long time, and was the first apostle to perform miracles in Jesus’ name.  He then journeyed to some of the major pagan cities of the age including Antioch and Corinth, and then of course, Rome.

We know that St. Peter died in Rome in 64 AD under the Emperor Nero, and we know that he was martyred for his faith, as all the early Fathers of the Church attest.  The legend is that he considered himself unworthy to die in the same manner as Christ, and so he asked to be crucified upside down.  It might be easy to think that Peter’s story is all legend, but excavations under the present day St. Peter’s Basilica on the Vatican Hill have identified his ancient tomb, which was venerated even from the earliest days of the Church.

"Domine Quo Vadis" By Annibale Carracci
“Domine Quo Vadis”
By Annibale Carracci

One of the most touching stories of Peter coming from our wider tradition is from the non-canonical Acts of Peter.  It isn’t an official book of the Bible or anything, but it is an interesting and moving story.  In this story, Peter is fleeing crucifixion in Rome, and as he’s on his way out of the city, probably listening to his iPod or something to pass the time, who does he come across but Jesus!  The risen Christ is carrying a large cross and heading the other way towards the city.  And Peter, shocked, asks that famous question, “Quo vadis?”  “Where are you going?”  Jesus smiles and answers, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.”  At this point, Peter gains the courage to bravely continue his ministry in Rome and is eventually martyred.

Even after the Ascension, Jesus doesn’t just leave us behind.  Like Peter, he has commissioned us to do great things, but also like Peter, we are weak.  Christ assures us that we don’t offer ourselves alone.  We walk with Christ, we offer ourselves with Christ, and we suffer with Christ.  He is with us every step of the way, especially the tough steps.  So take courage from the example of St. Peter, and let’s all strive to build on the firm foundations that he and his successors are for the Church!

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