Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
On Peter, the Apostle
"Impetuous Generosity Does Not Safeguard Him"
H.H. Benedict XVI
May 24, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In these catecheses we are meditating on the Church. We have said that
the Church lives in people and because of this, in the last catechesis,
we began to meditate on the figure of the individual apostles, beginning
with St. Peter. We saw two decisive stages of his life: the calling on
the Lake of Galilee and then the confession of faith: "You are the
Christ, the Messiah." A confession, we said, that is still insufficient,
initial though open.
St. Peter undertakes a journey of following. Thus, this initial
confession already bears in itself, like a seed, the future faith of the
Church. Today we wish to consider two other events in the life of St.
Peter: the multiplication of the loaves. We just heard in the passage
read the Lord's question and Peter's answer, and then the passage when
the Lord calls Peter to be shepherd of the universal Church.
We begin with the event of the multiplication of loaves. You know that
the people had heard the Lord for hours. At the end, Jesus said: They
are tired, they are hungry, we must give these people something to eat.
The apostles asked him: But how? And Andrew, Peter's brother, calls
Jesus' attention to a boy who was carrying five loaves and two fish. But
of what use are these for so many people? the apostles wondered.
Then the Lord had the people sit down and had the five loaves and two
fish distributed. And all were filled. What is more, the Lord asked the
apostles, and among them Peter, to gather the abundant leftovers: 12
baskets of bread (cf. John 12-13). Then the people, seeing this miracle
-- which seemed to be the much-awaited renewal of the new "manna," the
gift of bread from heaven -- want to make him their king.
But Jesus did not accept and withdrew to the mountain to pray alone. The
following day, on the other side of the lake, in the synagogue of
Capernaum, Jesus interpreted the miracle -- not in the sense of kingship
over Israel with a power of this world in the manner expected by the
crowd, but in the sense of gift of self: "The bread which I shall give
for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51). Jesus announces the
cross and with the cross the true multiplication of loaves, of the
Eucharistic bread -- his absolutely new way of being king, a way totally
contrary to the people's expectations.
We can understand that these words of the Master -- who did not want to
carry out a multiplication of loaves every day, who did not want to
offer Israel a power of this world -- were truly difficult, even
unacceptable, for the people. "Gives his flesh" -- what does this mean?
And even for the disciples, what Jesus said at this moment seemed
unacceptable. It was and is for our heart, for our mentality, a "hard"
saying that puts faith to the test (cf. John 6:60). Many of the
disciples withdrew. They wanted someone who would really renew the state
of Israel, its people, and not someone who said: "I give my flesh."
We can imagine that Jesus' words were difficult also for Peter, who at
Caesarea Philippi was opposed to the prophecy of the cross. And yet,
when Jesus asked the Twelve: "Do you also want to go away?", Peter
reacted with the outburst of his generous heart, guided by the Holy
Spirit. In the name of all he responds with immortal words, which are
also our words: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of
eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are
the Holy One of God" (cf. John 6:66-69).
Here, as in Caesarea, Peter initiates with his words the confession of
the Church's Christological faith and also becomes the voice of the
other apostles and of us believers of all times. This does not mean that
he had understood the mystery of Christ in all its profundity. His was
still an initial faith, a journeying faith. It would come to true
fullness only through the experience of the paschal events.
But, nevertheless, it was already faith, open to a greater reality --
open above all because it was not faith in something, but faith in
Someone: in him, Christ. Thus our faith is also an initial faith and we
must still journey a long way. However, it is essential that it be an
open faith that lets itself be guided by Jesus, because not only does he
know the way, but he is the way.
Peter's impetuous generosity does not safeguard him, however, from the
risks connected to human weakness. It is what we can also recognize
based on our lives. Peter followed Jesus with drive; he surmounted the
test of faith, abandoning himself to him. But the moment comes when he
also gives way to fear and falls: He betrays the Master (cf. Mark
14:66-72). The school of faith is not a triumphal march, but a journey
strewn with sufferings and love, trials and faithfulness to be renewed
Peter, who had promised absolute faithfulness, knows the bitterness and
humiliation of denial: The arrogant learns humility at his expense.
Peter, too, must learn that he is weak and in need of forgiveness. When
the mask finally falls and he understands the truth of his weak heart of
a believing sinner, he breaks out in liberating tears of repentance.
After this weeping, he is now ready for his mission.
On a spring morning, this mission would be entrusted to him by the risen
Jesus. The meeting would take place on the shores of the Lake of
Tiberias. It is the Evangelist John who refers to the dialogue that took
place in that circumstance between Jesus and Peter. One notes a very
significant play of words. In Greek the word "filÚo" expresses the love
of friendship, tender but not total, whereas the word "agapßo" means
love without reservations, total and unconditional.
Jesus asks Peter the first time: "Simon ů do you love me ('agapÔs-me')"
with this total and unconditional love (cf. John 21:15)? Before the
experience of the betrayal, the apostle would certainly have said: "I
love you ('agap˘-se') unconditionally." Now that he has known the bitter
sadness of infidelity, the tragedy of his own weakness, he says with
humility: "Lord, I love you ('fil˘-se')," that is, "I love you with my
poor human love." Christ insists: "Simon, do you love me with this total
love that I want?" And Peter repeats the answer of his humble human
love: "Kyrie, fil˘-se," "Lord, I love you as I know how to love."
The third time Jesus only says to Simon: "Fileţs-me?", "Do you love me?"
Simon understood that for Jesus his poor love, the only one he is
capable of, is enough, and yet he is saddened that the Lord had to say
it to him in this way. Therefore, he answered: "Lord, you know
everything; you know that I love you ('fil˘-se')."
It would seem that Jesus adapted himself to Peter, rather than Peter to
Jesus! It is precisely this divine adaptation that gives hope to the
disciple, who has known the suffering of infidelity. From here trust is
born that makes him able to follow to the end: "This he said to show by
what death he was to glorify God. And after this he said to him, 'Follow
me'" (John 21:19).
From that moment, Peter "followed" the Master with the precise awareness
of his own frailty; but this awareness did not discourage him. He knew
in fact that he could count on the presence of the Risen One beside him.
From the ingenuous enthusiasm of the initial adherence, passing through
the painful experience of denial and the tears of conversion, Peter came
to entrust himself to that Jesus who adapted himself to his poor
capacity to love. And he also shows us the way, despite all our
We know that Jesus adapts himself to our weakness. We follow him, with
our poor capacity to love and we know that Jesus is good and he accepts
us. It was a long journey for Peter that made him a trustworthy witness,
"rock" of the Church, being constantly open to the action of the Spirit
of Jesus. Peter would present himself as "witness of the sufferings of
Christ and participant of the glory that must manifest itself" (1 Peter
When he wrote these words he was already old, having reached the end of
his life, which he would seal with martyrdom. He was now able to
describe the true joy and to indicate where the latter can be attained:
The source is Christ believed and loved with our weak but sincere faith,
notwithstanding our frailty. That is why he would write the Christians
of his community, and he says it also to us: "Without having seen him
you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and
rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith
you obtain the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:8-9).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father read the following summary
Today, I wish to focus again on the Apostle Peter. Christ's teachings,
like all his behavior, were difficult to accept. Many withdrew and went
their separate ways. Yet, when Jesus questioned the Twelve, "Do you also
wish to go away?", Simon Peter answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You
have the words of eternal life; and we believe ů that you are the Only
One of God."
In this way, Peter initiates the Church's Christological confession of
faith. Though incomplete, his faith was nevertheless authentic and open
-- not a faith in something, but in someone; in Christ. Peter was not,
however, free of human weakness, and in time he too betrays the Master.
The school of faith, then, is not a triumphal march but a journey marked
daily by suffering and love, trials and faithfulness. Peter knew the
humiliation of denial, and for this he wept bitterly. But having learned
his own nothingness, he was then ready for his mission.
That mission, made possible by our Lord's acceptance of Peter's fragile
love and launched with the words "Follow me," is marked with hope:
Notwithstanding his infidelity, Peter knows the Risen Lord is at his
side. His long journey in faith, constantly open to the Spirit of Jesus,
renders him a credible witness -- one who knows the true joy that lies
in Christ, the way of salvation!
[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he
I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present today, including the
many university students. May your Easter pilgrimage be a time of deep
spiritual renewal. Upon you and your families I invoke an abundance of
God's blessings of peace and joy!
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