Saint Peter overcame personality flaws

Apostle learned not to take his eyes off Jesus

This is Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s depiction of the crucifixion of Saint Peter, who insisted on being crucified upside down he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. Caravaggio lived from 1571-1610. (Courtesy Photo)

Other than Jesus Christ himself, the most compelling figure in the New Testament may be the Apostle Peter, whose strong personality and first rank among the apostles make him stand out.

Citing Luke 9:2, the Most Rev. Michael J. Sis, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of San Angelo, says Jesus gave the 12 disciples, who later became apostles, special training and a share in his authority.

“He sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal,” Bishop Sis said. “These 12 men are called the apostles and it is clear in the New Testament that Peter holds the first place among them.

“After Peter proclaimed to Jesus, ‘You are the Christ, the son of the living God,’ Jesus declared to him in Matthew 16:18, ‘You are Peter. On this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

“Jesus then told Peter, ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven and whatever you lose on earth shall be losed in Heaven.

“Here Jesus was entrusting a specific authority to Peter. The power of the keys designates the spiritual authority that Jesus entrusted to Peter as the leader of his church. The church belongs to Jesus, not to Peter. Peter is a steward of the church.”

While Peter was a saint, Sis said, he was nonetheless imperfect.

“In various places in the four gospels there are unflattering remembrances of him,” the bishop said. “He was headstrong, impulsive, proud and outspoken. Most notably at the time of the arrest and trial of Jesus, Peter shamefully denied him in Mark 14:66-72. However, after Jesus rose from the dead he gave Peter the opportunity to reaffirm his love and commitment and in that conversation in John 21:15-19 he told Peter three times to take care of his flock.”

Sis said Peter is transformed “over and over in the presence of the wise and merciful Jesus.

“For example in the midst of the storm on the Sea of Galilee in Matthew 14:22-33, Jesus enabled Peter to walk on water,” he said. “However, when Peter took his eyes off Jesus and focused his attention on the wind and waves of the storm around him he started to sink. We also need to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ rather than focus our attention only on the storms around us.”

Sis said Peter was strengthened to carry out his responsibilities of leadership in the early church when he received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

“He would not have been capable of it merely on the basis of his own power,” he said.

“There are many New Testament passages like Mark 8:29 and Matthew 16:16 where Peter is presented as the spokesperson for the disciples of Jesus. In the earliest churches of the first century, Peter had a unique position of leadership. For example, Paul points out in First Corinthians 15:5 that the risen Christ appeared first to Peter and then to the other apostles.

“The Book of Acts clearly shows the leadership role of Peter. For example, it was he who stated that they needed to replace Judas in Acts 1:15-22. At the event of Pentecost in Acts 2:14-36 it was Peter who explained to the crowd the significance what had happened.

“Peter received a vision that clarified that Jewish rules for kosher food no longer applied to the followers of Jesus and at the council of Jerusalem, a pivotal moment in the development of Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism, Peter had an important role in the arbitration of the conflict.”

Rather than stay in Jerusalem, Sis said, Peter traveled to Lydda, Joppa and Caesarea and after leading the church in Antioch for a while he moved to Rome to lead the church there.

“Early Christian literature tells of Peter’s experience in Rome,” he said. “For example Clement describes Peter’s trials in Rome in 1 Clement 5:4 and Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 2.25.5, 8 tells about the crucifixion of Peter in Rome. Peter was the first Bishop of Rome. He served in that role until his martyrdom in A.D. 64 under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Nero.”

When Peter was about to be crucified, Sis said, he insisted that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus and he asked to be crucified upside down.

“After his death, the members of the church in Rome buried Peter in a necropolis on the Vatican hill near the Circus of Nero,” he said. “Later when the church constructed the Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican, the altar of the basilica was built directly above the burial place of Peter.

“When you go to Rome, you can request a guided tour of the excavations underneath St. Peter’s Basilica and they will show you the burial place of Peter.”

Sis said Pope Francis is the 266th Pope and the successor of Peter as Bishop of Rome.

“The flag of the Vatican City State depicts two keys, one gold and the other silver,” he said. “The gold key represents Peter’s authority in heaven and the silver key his authority on earth. This is rooted in Matthew 16:13-19 where Jesus said to Peter, ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

“The interconnecting of those two keys indicates the linkage between those two aspects of the power that was given by Jesus Christ to Peter.”