St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles
1. Jesus was walking one day along the shore of the Sea of Galilee when He saw two fishermen casting their nets into the water. He approached them and said: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17) These two fishermen were brothers named Simon and Andrew. The divine Master won their hearts immediately, so that they left their boat and their nets and followed Jesus. Simon was later called Peter and became the leader of the Apostles.
Peter's generosity and great love for Jesus are evident in the pages of the Gospel. When our Lord foretold the institution of the Blessed Eucharist, many of His disciples were scandalised and left Him. "Do you also wish to go away?" Jesus asked His Apostles. St. Peter answered Him without delay. “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast words of everlasting life, and we have come to believe and to know that Thou art the Christ, the Son of God.” (John 6:69) On another occasion Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do men say the Son of Man is?” The Apostles hesitated and began to suggest the names of various Prophets. But St. Peter was inspired to make the reply: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then our Lord appointed him Head of the Church. “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona . . . thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” (Mt. 16: 15-19) By these words there was instituted the loftiest and most ancient of the dynasties, the Papacy. The successors of St. Peter will rule the Church to the end of time and no power, neither persecution nor heresy, neither human tyranny nor false civilisation, will ever succeed in destroying this citadel of truth and goodness.
When a band of hired ruffians arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, His disciples were terrified and did nothing. Peter was the only one to show any courage, drawing his sword in defence of his divine Master. Later Jesus was brought in chains before the Sanhedrin and was condemned to death. Peter had not the heart to leave Him to His fate. He was too generous for that, even if he was too hasty and went on to deny Jesus three times. But he repented quickly and regretted his fault for the rest of his life. Even in his sin we can discern Peter's generosity of spirit.
Before he went to Rome, Peter had flouted the authority of the Synagogue of Jerusalem and had endured prison and undertaken long journeys in the course of his mission. Providence brought him to Rome, where he established the Roman Church which he was to sanctify by the shedding of his blood. He was crucified close to the Vatican hill from which his successors would one day govern the Christian world. His martyrdom bestowed an invincible strength upon the Church for all time.
2. It is good to admire the fidelity of St. Peter and the designs of divine Providence in making him the visible Head of the Church, but it is far better to follow his example. His love for Jesus led him to leave his family and his fisherman's trade in order to follow Our Lord. It led him to undertake long voyages, to endure imprisonment, and to face martyrdom. What can we do for the love of Jesus? Remember that if love is to be sincere it must be generous and effective.
Secondly, let us meditate on and imitate the ardent and fearless faith of St. Peter. He was not afraid to preach the teaching of Christ before the Sanhedrin. He was not afraid of Herod, who cast him into prison. He was not afraid of the Roman Emperor, who caused him to be crucified. Our faith should be steadfast and lively like his.
Finally, let us imitate Peter in his repentance. Although he loved Jesus very much and had such great faith in Him, in a moment of weakness and of imprudence he denied Him three times. All his life, however, he wept bitterly for this sin. Whenever he heard a cock crowing, it was as if an arrow had pierced his heart. He was not satisfied until he was hanging upon the cross like his divine Master and could prove his love for Jesus by a martyr's death.
3. Protect your people, O Lord, and keep them safe always, trusting as they do in the protection of your Apostles, Peter and Paul. Amen.