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A Beacon Of Light . . . St. Peter And The Early Church

April 27, 2021 Frontpage No Comments

By FR. RICHARD D. BRETON JR.

(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He received his BA in religious studies and his MA in dogmatic theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.)

  • + + The Easter Season is a time filled with so many opportunities to grow in the knowledge of the faith. One of the ways we can do this is by recognizing the important role people played in the Early Church. Understanding the role these people played in the formation of the Church assists us in recognizing the responsibility we have today in living the faith. Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at a few of these people and how each role influences the faith we live today.
    This week I want to focus on the most important figure of the Early Church. Who is this mysterious figure? Why St. Peter, of course!
    In order to understand the importance of St. Peter’s life in the Church we need to go back to the moment he was called by the Lord. St. Matthew’s Gospel clearly portrays this significant moment:
    “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matt. 4:18-20).
    The call of Peter was unique, but this uniqueness would not be revealed until later during the ministry of Jesus.

Teaching Moments

After calling the apostles to follow Him, Jesus began preparing them for the responsibilities He would bestow on them. Each moment with the Lord was part of their preparation. Whether it was the Sermon on the Mount, when teaching the Beatitudes, or the instruction on how to pray the Our Father, every moment of Jesus’ ministry was necessary. Even the parables and their connection to the Kingdom of God were teaching moments. These teaching moments of Jesus were critical in forming St. Peter for the task he had been chosen to do.
Eventually, the time came for Peter to confess his love for the Lord. Matthew’s Gospel shows this when it says:
“And Jesus came into the quarters of Caesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Who do men say that the Son of man is? But they said: Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. Jesus saith to them: But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That 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 to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ” (Matt. 16:13-20).
The confession of St. Peter was an act of faith! St. Peter had intently listened to the Lord in every moment of public ministry. This is confirmed in the fact that it was St. Peter who first recognized the Lord as the Messiah when he said: “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).
Following the confession in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus shows Peter, James, and John His glory on the mountain of the Transfiguration. Even in this divine moment, it is Peter who says: “It is good that we are here” (Matt. 17:4). Again St. Peter recognized and understood the Lord.

“I Will Not Deny Thee”

Even though St. Peter was the “rock” on which the Church was to be built, he would soon become the “rock of betrayal.”
“Then Jesus said to them: All you shall be scandalized in me this night. For it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed. But after I shall be risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. And Peter answering, said to him: Although all shall be scandalized in thee, I will never be scandalized. Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, that in this night before the cock crow, thou wilt deny me thrice. Peter saith to him: Yea, though I should die with thee, I will not deny thee.
“And in like manner said all the disciples….But Peter sat without in the court: and there came to him a servant maid, saying: Thou also wast with Jesus the Galilean. But he denied before them all, saying: I know not what thou sayest. And as he went out of the gate, another maid saw him, and she saith to them that were there: This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath, I know not the man.
“And after a little while they came that stood by, and said to Peter: Surely thou also art one of them; for even thy speech doth discover thee. Then he began to curse and to swear that he knew not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus which he had said: Before the cock crow, thou wilt deny me thrice. And going forth, he wept bitterly” (Matt. 26:31-35, 26:69-75).
After the Resurrection, St. Peter was one of the first to recognize the Lord. He also received the distinguished designation of being the shepherd. Do you remember the morning when Jesus was having breakfast with His apostles on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius? After coming in from a long night of fishing, Jesus was waiting for the apostles with a charcoal fire. It was during this breakfast that Jesus asked Peter three times, Do you love me? Each time Peter responded by saying yes, showing his growing anxiety with each answer. Jesus instructed Peter to feed my lambs, shepherd my sheep, and feed my sheep.
With this threefold question, Jesus was assured of Peter’s devotion and reinstated him as the head apostle. This moment could be considered Peter’s installation as the first Pope. From the moment of Peter becoming the first Pope until now, we have had an unbreakable line of apostolic succession which leads all the way back to Christ. Today’s Pope Francis is the two hundred sixty-sixth Pope, or Bishop of Rome.
Journeying with the Early Church, we have seen a great love for the faith. This is especially noticeable in the ministry of St. Peter. Having been chosen, Peter followed Christ as faithfully as humanly possible. There were times where Peter struggled, but even in those struggles, there was a deep desire to follow the Lord in all he did. Peter knew who Jesus was!
This week there is an important question being asked of us! Who do we say Jesus is? Who is Jesus for us in our lives? For St. Peter, Jesus was the solid foundation where he found the strength to continue the formation of the Church. Jesus was the strength to persevere in the midst of imprisonment and persecution. Is Jesus the “rock” where we find the strength to live our faith, not just by saying words, but also through our actions?
How do we secure the foundation of our faith? We need to receive Jesus frequently in Holy Communion. By doing so we continually strengthen the intimate relationship the Lord yearns for. Who do I say Jesus is? He is my Lord, the rock of my faith! It is the “rock of Christ” that distinguishes me as a Catholic!
May my love for the Lord never falter!

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