Saint Brigid Religious Education
100 Mayflower Street
West Hartford, CT 06110
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
St. Peter's feast day is June 29th (with St. Paul).