On this rock I will build my Church (Perugino)

Sara and Justin Kraft

3 Lessons We Can Learn From the Life of St. Peter

Today, June 29, the Church honors Saints Peter and Paul. A feast day celebrates the life and actions of a saint that we might draw spiritual lessons from their good example. This week our posts will be a two part tribute to these great foundational saints, starting with today's reflection on three lessons we can learn from the life of St. Peter. 

St. Peter was poor and unlearned fisherman, and was called by Jesus to be one of his permanent disciples.  During Jesus’ lifetime, St. Peter was with Jesus for several key moments, including the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden.  Ten years after Jesus ascended into heaven, he went to Rome and for twenty-five years labored with St. Paul building up the great Roman Church.  He was crucified in Rome by the order of Emperor Nero Augustus Caesar.[1] 

It's Good to Take Risks, but Don’t Be Rash

St. Peter was known for his rash responses. 

On one occasion Jesus even “rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do,’” (Mark 8:33).

Later, when the Jews were taking Jesus prisoner in the garden, Peter drew his sword and cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear (John 18:10).  “Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” (John 18:11).

Finally, as Jesus foretold, Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed (John 18:15-27).

We, too, can emotionally respond to the situations in our lives – whether it is blowing up at our disobedient child, experiencing impatience at the grocery store checkout line, or trying to make major life decisions without proper discernment. Slowing down and praying before acting can help us make better decisions.  The good news is St. Peter eventually overcame his rashness to become the rock on which Jesus built his church.  We, too, can overcome rashness to do great things (even if small) for God.

While acting rashly rarely leads to positive outcomes, acting out of faith makes all things possible. St. Peter’s life illustrates this over and over again. Two famous examples illustrate this point. The first occurs when Jesus asks Peter to put his nets out into the deep. Upon catching a great mass of fish the Lord calls to Peter and his partners saying I will make you fishers of men. Peter’s actions say it all, “When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11). Shortly thereafter, Jesus sends his disciples ahead. In the middle of the night, he comes to them walking on water. The apostles actually think Jesus is a ghost. When Jesus tries to calm there fears St. Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28). What happens next should amaze us if we let it. There in the cold darkness Peter places a foot over the edge of the boat. Close your eyes and picture it. First it hovers above the water and then slowly it descends. Perhaps it shutters at the first touch of the cold sea water. Then he puts his full weight down lifting himself clear of the boat. And then, all be it just for a few moments he stands straight and like his master walks on water. 

Both of these actions may appear rash or at least risky on the surface, but Peter’s life teaches us that it is ok to take a risk when God calls. Riskiness and rashness are not the same thing. God does not always ask us to play it safe. Peter’s actions challenge us to ask ourselves what risk is God calling me to take? Is he asking me to give up my job so I can stay home with my children? Is asking me to give more to the poor or my church even if it causes financial stress? Am I called to take another job for less pay in order to devote more time to my family? Do I need to become a primary caregiver to a sick or aged parent? Trusting God is a risk, but it is the only way we can become who we were made to be. 

Humility is Key

Not many specific details of St. Peter’s death are known.  We do know that he was martyred by the order of Emperor Nero Augustus Caesar.  Tradition has it that St. Peter was crucified upside down by his request.  St. Peter didn’t think he was worthy to be crucified in the same way as Jesus. Most of us will not be called to martyrdom in such humble submission to Our Lord's plan, but there are many examples of Peter's humility that directly inform our own life in the modern world. Humility is what kept Peter (even in spite of his brusque, rash personality) close to Our Lord. He moved rashly forward at times, yes, but he also humbly submitted to the Master's correction and weathered Our Lord's rebukes with an openness to the love and growth that they offered. 

In today’s world, it is hard to be humble.  Social media such as Facebook continually begs us to broadcast our accomplishments, blessings, and happy moments to our numerous friends and acquaintances.  It entices us to see how many “likes” we can get on each post so everyone knows exactly what we are up at any given moment.  We have the option of creating any image we want of ourselves and it's tempting to take advantage of this--photoshopping our life to fit into a social model of attractive, perfect, and enviable. This environment seems to intensify our natural desire to hide our flaws and imperfections (both external and internal). We must instead embrace the two truths that 1) this life is temporary and we are not made for this world; and 2) healing and growth come from acknowledging our wounds and flaws and letting Our Lord into those deep spaces of pain and sin. Humility is a dying to self. So, while we may not ever face crucifixion in the literal sense, we are called to die to our egos and our pride. 

Hope is Vital

St. Peter wrote, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15).

As of late, the world has been full of news which can easily make us lose focus and hope.  Continued killings and war in the world, heightened tension regarding equality in our nation, and rising prices can easily make us lose trust in God.  As Christians, we need to both search for and maintain peace in our own lives, so we can share the love of Christ with others through our witness.

Some ways to maintain peace include making time every day for prayer.  This is not easy. As parents of small children, it seems our children are experts at knowing when we are praying and have an immediate need. Both of us have made it a priority to have 5-10 minutes of mental prayer each and every day so we can talk to God about the problems and issues within our lives.  We also strive to have a resolution each and every day so we can continue to grow in holiness.

It is important to understand that there is no such thing as perfect prayer. You can even do it while bouncing a baby on your knee. You will have distractions. Your mind will wander. Offering your time to God is still pleasing to him. On days when I am most distracted I often begin my prayer with words such as these, “Lord, I love you. You know the many distractions on my mind. Therefore, I offer you my time. I will sit in this place for the next ten minutes doing my best to make myself available. Help me to think of you and even if I don’t please accept my time as a pleasing prayer to you.” 

Making time for prayer is vital to having hope.  When I have hope, it is easier to be patient with my children, spouse, and the long line at the grocery store.  


[1]Facts compiled from Lives of the Saints for Everyday of the Year, Fr. Alban Butler, Tan Books and Publishers INC. p. 232-233 and http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11744a.htm).