Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
Profile of St. Peter
"Occasionally Naive and Fearful, Yet Honest and Capable of Repentance"
H.H. Benedict XVI
May 17, 2006
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.
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
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
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
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!
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