St. Peter was the Prince of the Apostles and the First Pope of the Catholic Church. St. Peter was martyred during Nero’s persecutions around the year 67 A.D. Yet the Church has continued and grown to encompass the whole world. In this lesson we will study the life of St. Peter as presented in the Gospels, in the writings of the Church Fathers, and in the Catechism. We will also learn several prayers to him and have an engaging activity in honor of St. Peter.
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St. Peter holding the keys of the kingdom
and wearing the pallium by Peter Paul Rubens
After almost 2,000 years, St. Peter is still revered. There are several feasts for St. Peter in the Catholic calendar. Originally celebrated on January 18th, the Feast St. Peter’s Chair commemorates the moment when Jesus gave St. Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. In 1969 this feast day was combined with the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair in Antioch on February 22nd which commemorates St. Peter’s founding of the See of Antioch. As already mentioned, June 29th is the joint feast day of both St. Peter and St. Paul.
Pope St. Leo the Great in a Sermon celebrating his elevation to the Pontificate stated:
“The dispensation of Truth therefore abides, and the blessed Peter persevering in the strength of the Rock, which he has received, has not abandoned the helm of the Church, which he undertook. …And still today he more fully and effectually performs what is entrusted to him, and carries out every part of his duty and charge in Him and with Him, through Whom he has been glorified.” (Schaff and Wace. Eds. 1895. pg. 117)
Yet what is the source of this reverence, this confidence in his help, this feeling of comradeship? What is it about St. Peter that causes us to feel that we can relate to him? He is like the older brother we all wish to have – brave, loyal, persevering – and makes just enough mistakes so that our parents don’t favor him too much. For it is St. Peter’s mistakes that we remember, sometimes with ridiculous thoughts that we could have done better. St. Peter’s attempt at walking on water, his spontaneous idea of erecting tents during the Transfiguration, his vehement objection to Christ’s crucifixion and finally his denial of Christ during His trial.
St. Peter made many mistakes during his time as an Apostle. They were usually impulsive mishaps; mistakes made by a man uncertain what to do in unknown situations. What did Jesus do when St. Peter made these mistakes? Sometimes, as during the Transfiguration, He was silent. Usually, He rebuked St. Peter – sometimes with just a look. St. Peter did not resent these rebukes. He did not crawl away sulking nor did he complain to the other Apostles that he was being treated unfairly. We do not hear of him discussing the criticisms with his own brother, Andrew or with his fellow fishermen, James and John.
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