Sunday, January 30, 2011

Strength Through Weakness -- St. Peter

"Look at [Peter], the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church [Matt. 16:18]. And what does our Lord say to him? ‘Oh you of little faith,’ he says, ‘why do you doubt?’ [Matt. 14:31]" (Homilies on Exodus 5:4 [A.D. 248]).  Origen

As I said in my previous post on the topic St. Peter was probably the most "human" of all the apostles. He was a man prone to fits of emotion. When I read the Gospels I see myself in him a lot. Wanting to step out onto the water and walk to Jesus, like we are told he did in Matt 14: 28-32, but as soon as I get my feet out of the boat, I start sinking. I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing in giving Peter the keys of the kingdom. If the weak link could stand after Jesus' death then surely his church would survive through all time.

Jesus knew Peter would be tested mightily not just by temporal authorities, but by Satan himself. In Luke 22: 31-33, we see Jesus telling Peter that Satan has asked for the Apostles to sift them like wheat. Jesus tells him, that He has prayed for Peter to be strong and to strengthen his brethren. That is one of my favorite verses. Jesus tells him all of this just before telling Peter he will deny Christ three times. Peter always seems to need a little urging from Christ, just a little nudge to get his head right. After all it's Peter who draws the sword, showing his emotions once again, when Judas comes with the Romans to arrest Jesus.

After the Resurrection and before Jesus' Ascension he and his prime minister, Peter have a quiet little chat where Our Lord instructs Peter to watch over His flock in His absence (John 21: 15-17). This and the keys of the kingdom verses in Matthew are among the bedrock of the Catholic Church's belief that Jesus installed Peter as the head of his earthly ministry.

Returning to our links in the chain analogy. I have always thought that most of the other apostles probably looked at Peter and wondered what he might do when the rubber met the road. Always a little unsure of how Simon son of Jonah would react. I think most of us are that way we believe, but we occasionally let our doubts swallow our faith whole.

Reading the Gospels several of the other disciples seem like more logical choices to head Jesus' earthly kingdom. John, the disciple Jesus loved, the youngest (?) apostle he lived beyond the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. James or John, the sons of Zebedee, so full of spit and vinegar Jesus calls them Sons of Thunder (Mark 3: 17). Jesus however relies on his "Rock" to anchor the faith through the ages. Indeed Peter always seems to have the answers for the apostles when Jesus questions them directly. See John 6: 68, Matthew 16: 16.

Even to the end of his life we see Peter not wanting to endure his trials. I speak of course of the beautiful tradition that says Peter was fleeing Rome to escape martyrdom when he saw Jesus going into Rome. Peter turned to him and said Quo Vadis Domine? (Where are you going, Lord). Jesus tells him to Rome to be crucified again. Peter's strength is once again buttressed and he returns to his martyrdom, crucified upside down.

Between 1939-50 an archaeological expedition dug out the Vatican Necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica and found many catacombs and tombs as well as many previous structures dedicated to the saint. What they found at the end of their excavation however was a grave which had been marked with attributions of being Peter's resting place. The Vatican website has an awesome virtual tour showing the many tombs and shrines, the tour ends at Peter's grave.


Dorothy Hjermstad said...

I am confused about this, Michael. You said that Jesus went to Rome to be crucified AGAIN???
I have never heard this before. Is this in the Catholic Bible?

Michael said...

Dorothy, It is an old tradition that Peter was fleeing Rome and saw Jesus, who was going into Rome.

Then they had the conversation I mentioned. Jesus didn't get crucified again, he just had to remind Peter that sometimes we have to suffer when we don't want to.

Michael said...

Also the Catholic New Testament is identical to the Protestant one. The Old Testament is different.