|Peter's road to faith in Jesus contained many
bumps and detours, but through it all he becomes the trusted witness and
'rock' of the Church
On Wednesday, 24 May, at the
General Audience in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father continued his
Catechesis on the figure of St. Peter, this time as "Apostle". The
following is a translation of the Pope's Catechesis, given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In these Catecheses, we are meditating on the Church. We said that the
Church lives in people and therefore, in last week's Catechesis, we began
to meditate on the characters of the individual Apostles, beginning with
We examined two decisive stages of his life: the call [to follow Jesus]
near the Sea of Galilee, and then the confession of faith: "You are
Christ, the Messiah". It is a confession, we said, that is still lacking,
initial and yet open. St. Peter puts himself on a path of "sequela",
following. And so, this initial confession carries within it, like a seed,
the future faith of the Church.
Today, we want to consider another two important events in the life of
St. Peter the multiplication of the loaves — we heard the Lord's question
and St. Peter's reply in the Gospel passage just read
— and then the Lord who calls Peter to
be Pastor of the universal Church.
Misunderstanding Christ's kingship
Let us now begin with the multiplication of the loaves. You know that
the people had been listening to the Lord for hours. At the end, Jesus
says: They are tired and hungry, we must give these people something to
eat. The Apostles ask: But how? And Andrew, Peter's brother, draws Jesus'
attention to a boy who had with him five loaves of bread and two fish. But
what is this for so many people, the Apostles ask.
The Lord has the crowd be seated and these five loaves and two fish
distributed. And the hunger of everyone is satisfied; what is more, the
Lord gives the Apostles Peter among them — the duty to collect the
abundant left-overs: 12 baskets of bread (cf. Jn 6:12-13).
Afterwards, the people, seeing this miracle — that seemed to be the
much-awaited renewal of a new "manna", of the gift of bread from heaven —,
wanted to make him king. But Jesus does not accept and withdraws into the
hills by himself to pray. The following day, on the other side of the lake
in the Synagogue of Capernaum, Jesus explained the miracle
— not in the sense of a kingship over Israel with a worldly power
in the way the crowds hoped, but in the sense of the gift of self: "The
bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (Jn 6:51).
Jesus announces the Cross and with the Cross the true multiplication of
the loaves, the Eucharistic bread — his absolutely new way of kingship, a
way completely contrary to the expectations of the people.
We can understand that these words of the Master, who does not want to
multiply bread every day, who does not want to offer Israel a worldly
power, would be really difficult, indeed, unacceptable, for the people.
"He gives his flesh": what does this mean?
Even for the disciples what Jesus says in this moment seems
unacceptable. It was and is for our heart, for our mentality, a "hard
saying" which is a trial of faith (cf. Jn 6:60). Many of the disciples
went away. They wanted someone who would truly renew the State of Israel,
of his people, and not one who said: "I give my flesh".
The necessity of Peter's fall
We can imagine than the words of Jesus were difficult for Peter too,
who at Caesarea Philippi he protested at the prophesy of the Cross.
However, when Jesus asked the Twelve: "Will you also go away?", Peter
reacted with the enthusiasm of his generous heart, guided by the Holy
Spirit. Speaking on everyone's behalf, he answered 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. Jn 6:66-69).
Here, like at Caesarea, Peter begins with his words the confession of
the Church's Christological faith and becomes spokesman also for the other
Apostles, and of we believers of all times. This does not mean that he had
already understood the mystery of Christ in all its depth; his faith was
still at the beginning of a journey of faith. It would reach its true
fullness only through the experience of the Paschal events.
Nonetheless, it was already faith, open to the greatest reality; open
especially because it was not faith in something, it was faith in Someone:
in him, Christ.
And so, our faith too is always an initial one and we have still to
carry out a great journey. But it is essential that it is an open faith
and that we allow ourselves to be led by Jesus, because he does not only
know the Way, but he is the Way.
Peter's rash generosity does not protect him, however, from the risks
connected with human weakness. Moreover, it is what we too can recognize
in our own lives. Peter followed Jesus with enthusiasm, he overcame the
trial of faith, abandoning himself to Christ. The moment comes, however,
when he gives into fear and falls: he betrays the Master (ct. Mk
The school of faith is not a triumphal march but a journey marked daily
by suffering and love, trials and faithfulness. Peter, who promised
absolute fidelity, knew the bitterness and humiliation of denial: the
arrogant man learns the costly lesson of humility. Peter, too, must learn
that he is weak and in need of forgiveness.
Weak heart of a believing sinner
Once his attitude changes and he understands truth of his weak heart of
a believing sinner, he weeps in a fit of liberating repentance. After this
weeping he is finally ready for his mission.
On a spring morning, this mission will be entrusted to him by the Risen
Christ. The encounter takes place on the shore of the Lake of Tiberias.
John the Evangelist recounts the conversation between Jesus and Peter in
that circumstance. There is a very significant play on words.
In Greek, the word "fileo" means the love of friendship, tender
but not all-encompassing; instead, the word "agapao" means love
without reserve, total and unconditional. Jesus asks Peter the first time:
"Simon... do you love me (agapas-me)" with this total and
unconditional love (Jn 21:15)?
Prior to the experience of betrayal, the Apostle certainly would have
said: "I love you (agapo-se) unconditionally". Now that he has
known the bitter sadness of infidelity, the drama of his own weakness, he
says with humility: "Lord; you know that I love you (filo-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
response of his humble human love: "Kyrie, filo-se", "Lord, I love
you as I am able to love you". The third time Jesus only says to Simon: "Fileis-me?",
"Do you love me?"
Simon understands that his poor love is enough for Jesus, it is the
only one of which he is capable, nonetheless he is grieved that the Lord
spoke to him in this way. He thus replies: "Lord, you know everything; you
know that I love you (filo-se)".
This is to say that Jesus has put himself on the level of Peter, rather
than Peter on Jesus' level! It is exactly this divine conformity that
gives hope to the Disciple, who experienced the pain of infidelity. From
here is born the trust that makes him able to follow [Christ] 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'" (Jn 21:19).
From that day, Peter "followed" the Master with the precise awareness
of his own fragility; but thus understanding did not discourage him.
Indeed, he knew that he could count on the presence of the Risen One
From the naïve enthusiasm of
initial acceptance, passing though the sorrowful experience of denial and
the weeping of conversion, Peter succeeded in entrusting himself to that
Jesus who adapted himself to his poor capacity of love. And in this way he
shows us the way, notwithstanding all of our weakness. We know that Jesus
adapts himself to this weakness of ours.
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, because he was constantly open to the action of the
Spirit of Jesus.
Wisdom of age and experience
Peter qualifies himself as a "witness of the sufferings of Christ as
well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed" (I Pt 5:1). When
he was to write these words he would already be elderly, heading towards
the end of his life that will be sealed with martyrdom. He will then be
ready to describe true joy and to indicate where it can be drawn from: the
source is believing in and loving Christ with our weak but sincere faith,
notwithstanding our fragility.
He would therefore write to the Christians of his community, and says
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" (I Pt