Feast Day: June 29
Fishermen, net makers, and ship builders
St. Peter is considered to be the first Pope of the Catholic Church, as Jesus proclaimed to him: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my community. And the gates of the underworld can never overpower it.'" (Matthew 16: 18)
Despite his future importance in the founding of our Church, Peter started life with humble beginnings.Historically, he was thought to have been married and to have at least one child. He was known as Simon Peter of Cephas and he and his brother, Andrew, were fishermen when they first met Jesus as they were bringing their boat in from an unsuccessful fishing trip on the Lake of Genesareth. After watching Jesus speak to huge crowds from the boat and then, with Jesus’ help, pulling in fish catches that almost sunk two boats, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, along with their partners, James and John (the sons of Zebedee) brought their boats back to the land, left all of their possessions and followed Jesus.
Simon Peter’s life was never the same after that. Although Peter was one of the first disciples and he became spokesman for the group of apostles, several things in Simon Peter’s life resulted in his being known for his “little faith”. Most of these instances are familiar to us all. Peter was the disciple who tried to follow Jesus’ command to walk across the water to Him in the midst of a storm; but failed when he began to fear the wind and had to seek help from Jesus. Peter was also the disciple who tried to save Jesus from arrest by cutting off the ear of one of the high priest’s soldiers--clearly not having understanding and faith in God’s plan for Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Finally, Peter is remembered as the disciple who first denied that he would ever disown Jesus and then proceeded to do just that three times after His capture by the soldiers.
During the days before his Ascension, Jesus gave Peter three chances to proclaim his love for Jesus, making up for his denials. Each chance offered Peter the chance to proclaim his love and included Jesus’ words to “feed his sheep”.
Following Jesus’ ascension, Peter became the leader of the Apostles (as is described in the book of Acts). He made decisions about additional Apostles and punishments for those who were breaking laws. It was also Peter who made the decision to spread the Gospel beyond the Jewish community to the Gentiles, permitting the new Church to be a universal church.
Peter’s actions made him the enemy of King Herod Agrippa, who had him imprisoned under unbelievably heavy guard. The story is that he escaped from this prison with the help of an angel. Following his escape, Peter resumed apostolic traveling throughout the ancient world, eventually ending up in Rome. Peter died in Rome, during the reign of Emperor Nero (about 64 AD). He was captured and crucified on Vatican Hill. At his request, it is said that Peter was crucified upside down because he did not consider himself to die in the same manner as the Lord. He was buried in Rome near the Vatican. Four centuries later a large basilica was built over the site of his burial. In the mid 20th century, during excavations beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, human bones were discovered. It was determined that they were likely to be those of St. Peter and in 2013 Pope Francis revealed the relics of 9 bone fragments to the public.
St. Peter is honored on February 22 and November 18, besides his chief feast day of June 29. He is often depicted as an elderly man holding a key and a book. His symbols include an inverted cross, a boat and the cock.
This video provides a visual and narrative summary of the life and works of St. Peter the Apostle.