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In the New Testament, Peter is called at first only Simon, then gradually Simon Peter, then Peter alone. Matthew and Luke called him Simon Peter. All four evangelists generally used this double name, which expressed both the personality and the office of Peter. He was renamed "Cephas" by Our Lord. He was the son of Jona and brother of Andrew. Bethsaida is well-known in world history today only because Peter was from there. By profession Peter was a fisherman.

During the years of Christ's public life, Peter was living in the neighboring city of Capharnaum called Bethsaida which was situated on the eastern shore of Lake Genesareth. This is also called the Sea of Galilee and the Lake of Tiberias. The lake was thirteen miles long and six miles wide and forms the eastern coast of Galilee, the northern and most fertile region in Palestine. The Lord humbly came and went at Peter's home, as though He were at his own home. The traits and mannerism of Peter's native land were distinctly stamped on this prince of the apostles. On no other disciple of Christ was this Galilean character so strongly impressed. He had a very noticeable Galilean accent, which helped to betray him to the bystander at the time of his denial of Christ. It is said that Peter was a slender person, of a middle size, inclining to tallness, and that his complexion was pale, almost white. It is also said that he had a short, thick, curled beard, thin eyebrows, or no eyebrows at all. Peter's eyes were black, but flecked with red due to frequent weeping.

Peter's family ties were thoroughly simple. His father's name was Jona. He was a quiet man, going about his business unnoticed, neither a councilor nor a financier, neither a politician nor a man of influence. But then, on a beautiful spring day, Andrew came dashing, out of breath and full of joy, calling to his brother, "We have found the Messiah." The glance of the Lord fell upon Peter, and Peter's life was changed, and his name will endure as a star until the end of time. Jesus said "Blessed are thou, Simon, son of Jona!

By profession Peter was a fisherman. A fisherman certainly cannot be called a poor man, and by no means a beggar. Peter himself wanted to do away with such pious exaggerations. At all times he owned a house, a boat, and all the gear necessary for his work. He hired, most likely as day-laborers, the fisherman Zebedee and his family. A man who came from a background of utter poverty could not have walked so boldly and self-confidently up to the Lord when He called and have said, "Behold, we have left all and followed thee."

We have left all! The sea, the wide blue sea, Peter gave up for the Lord, and in exchange was plunged headlong into the dirt and squalor of the streets and cities. Often later, as he walked through Antioch and Corinth and Rome, burdened with the cares and anxieties of the infant Church, he recalled his days on the sea. But it was the sea that prepared Peter for the storms and gales and furies, for the problems and difficulties of the universal Church. Everything about Peter was plain and simple, with the exception of his divine mission. As a fisherman, he was not great hero of world-wide importance, no masterful genius who advanced to great height.

Peter had a lively and brilliant spirit, a quick and impetuous will, and, above all, a warm heart. He was a simple, upright person who, as he earlier had cared faithfully for his family and himself, later did not spare himself in looking after the new-born Church. His was a practical life, first things first. He planned boldly and his goals were high. By the high priest's, Peter was judged as an "uneducated and ordinary" man. Although these Jewish religious rulers by no means opposed all groups and cultures, they even thought Paul was poorly depicted. There was at least one awkward handicap that remained with the fisherman from Bethsaida through his life, and this he had learned at home. It was his speech. The crowds in the streets of Jerusalem made fun of the halting delivery, the unpolished language and speech of the Galileans. Their dialect always reveal their origin.

One of the first miracles of Jesus was the curing of Peter's mother-in-law, who was ill with "a great fever," as Luke, the doctor, diagnosed it in his Gospel. The wife of Peter is never expressly mentioned in the Gospels. It is thought that she may have died early. Perhaps it is for this very reason that Peter's mother-in-law, after her miraculous cure, was so busy in her work, since there was no other woman in the house to see after the home affairs. Peter was with James the Greater and John and witnessed the raising of Jairus' daughter to life, the transfiguration and the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

After the Ascension of the risen Savior, Peter was made the head of the Church (the first Pope) and is named first in the listings of Apostles in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. In the Acts of the Apostles St. Luke recorded Peter's visits to the churches in Judea and Galilee and Samaria. Peter was the one to order another apostle to be chosen to take the place of the betrayer, Judas, and even pointed out the essential qualities the new candidate had to have. He delivered the first public sermon on the first Pentecost and performed the first miracle of the apostolic Church when he healed a lame beggar. The main theme of all Peter's sermons was Jesus Christ. All his thoughts are directed to Him, and everything he says is derived from the words of His.

The teachings of St. Peter have been directly preserved in his eight discourses in the Acts of the Apostles and in his own two Epistles. Peter was the first to preach the Gospel in and around Jerusalem and was the leader of the first Christian community, establishing a local church in Antioch. He presided over the Council of Jerusalem in 51, wrote two Catholic Epistles to the Christians in Asia Minor and established his see in Rome where he spent his last years. Peter was martyred by crucifixion in 64 or 65 upside-down in Rome, Italy during the Neronian persecution.

Peter was pope for 34-37 years, 25 of them in Rome and in prison. Peter will undoubtedly keep the record for the longest number of years serving as pope. There must always be one in the Church who hold the highest authority, who can close and open, who can bind and loose. Some of the popes down through the century have not been good. In fact, a few have been notoriously bad. However, Christ stands behind the Church and its leadership because Christ knew the weakness of human beings, its sins and crimes.

Peter's relics are at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. In art Peter is depicted carrying two keys, symbolic of his primacy in the Church. He lifts his right hand in blessing, commanding the near and the far. In his left hand he holds the heavy golden keys that bind and loose. Under his arm rests the holy burden of the Gospel which he spread over Jerusalem, all Judea, and Samaria, to the ends of the earth, and which caused him to journey to the vast and ancient city of Rome, his second home. What a great leader! What a highly gifted and religious person Simon Peter must have been! The symbols of Peter are the Keys, the upside-down Latin Cross, and the book.



St. Peter's feast day is June 29th (with St. Paul).

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