I LOVE St. Peter. The Scriptural accounts of the missteps of this outspoken, hot-tempered, passionate first Pope reveal a man who is flawed and weak. I can relate. Equally, the Scriptures reveal to us a man whose life has been thoroughly transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit - his flaws are remade into his greatest strengths. I can relate.
St. Peter's life, like that of all the Saints, opens up to us a litany of examples that we can both meditate upon and imitate in our own striving for the heights of holiness in the trenches of everyday life.
Let's look at seven life lessons that we can draw from St. Peter.
Boldness was a gift that Peter possessed in abundance - a gift that made him a natural born leader. The problem with natural gifts is that they are not always directed to the right ends or exercised in the right manner. Time and time again, Peter's natural gift of boldness landed him in hot water with the Lord. See Mt 16:22-23 and Jn 13: 6-11 for two examples.
Natural gifts need supernatural grace to purify them and build upon them. After Pentecost, Peter's natural gifts had been anointed by the Holy Spirit and we see his propensity for bold statements now transformed into his ability to preach the core Gospel message (the kerygma) in power. (Acts 2:14-37) Like Peter, we too need to ask the Lord for the anointing of the Holy Spirit to transform our natural gifts and talents into ones that will bear supernatural fruit.
Fear blocks faith.
Like Peter, I too have had moments in my relationship with Jesus where my faith and trust has led me to "walk on water". Similarly, I can recall far too many episodes in my own life where my focus has been on the wind and the waves around me and I have hit bottom like a lead brick. This Gospel account teaches us so many lessons, but perhaps the one that strikes me the most is that fear is a block to faith. When we allow our fears of "what could happen" or even "what should happen" to block our faith, we effectively block the power of grace. The Lord knows this and the words "Be not afraid" are one of the most often-repeated phrases in all of the Scriptures. In moments of conflict between fear and faith, let us ask St. Peter for his intercession to help us keep our eyes on Jesus and continue to walk on water.
Denying the Lord is a grave sin. Jesus, in a discourse directed to the Apostles, warns them of the consequences of such a denial: "But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father" .(Mt. 10:33) He directly foretells Peter's denial to him. (Lk 22:34) In spite of these warnings, Peter does indeed succumb to his own weakness and vehemently denies that he knows Jesus three times. (Lk 22: 54-62)
Luke's Gospel relates to us that immediately after his denials, the "Lord turned and looked at Peter." (Lk 22:61). I can only imagine that look of love and mercy - of sheer compassion that Jesus gave to Peter in that moment. A look which expressed his desire to forgive Peter and his knowledge of the great potential inside Peter in spite of his outward failings. No sin is above the mercy of the Lord. When we sin, we have only to seek that look of love from Jesus in the sacrament of Confession to be restored to his grace.
Discipleship sometimes requires a career change.
Encounters with Jesus still lead to career changes today. Not long after I experienced a powerful conversion in the year 2000, I was led to quit my six-figure job and trade my successful career for a life of service as a stay at home Mom. Nearly two decades later, I am homeschooling, studying theology, writing, speaking and still in awe of all the Lord has done in my life.
Not all disciples are required to make such dramatic career changes. What is required of all disciples is that we submit our career to the Lordship of Jesus and allow him to direct our path, trusting that his plans for our lives are far better than any that we could conceive for ourselves.
One of my favorite accounts from the Gospels is that of the Lord rebuking Peter, James and John for falling asleep while he was praying in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus says to Peter: “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." (Mk 14:37-38)
Why do I love this account? Because more often than not, I too find myself giving in to the weakness of my own flesh. It is a comfort to me to know that I am not alone in my struggles. Prayer can sometimes be difficult. Every time I sit down to pray I battle distractions, fatigue, and the temptation to insert my own agenda into my prayer time. Far from being discouraging, Jesus' words spurn me on to continue to persevere in prayer in spite of the obstacles - asking the Holy Spirit to "come to the aid of our weakness". (Rom 8:26)
Share what you have been given.
In Acts Chapter 3 we read about the crippled beggar asking Peter and John for money. Here is Peter's reply: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, [rise and] walk.” (Acts 3:6) The crippled beggar was intermediately healed.
The sharing of what we have received may not always take the form of physical healing, but we must be open to opportunities to see through what people are asking for to what they really need. Our world is filled with people who are crippled in many ways - let us imitate Peter and boldly share the gift of hope and salvation in Jesus that we have received.
Prepare your testimony.
When we follow Jesus, people will be curious about our beliefs and our lives. Not all of us have dramatic conversion stories, but all faithful disciples of Jesus have moments of encounter with the Lord that can serve a lifeline to those walking in darkness. It is helpful to intentionally reflect on those special moments in prayer - perhaps even writing them down in a journal. In this way, we too will be ready to give this "explanation" to anyone who asks.
St. Peter, pray for us.
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