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Pope Benedict on the Profile of St. Peter

5/18/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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"Occasionally Naive and Fearful, Yet Honest and Capable of Repentance"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 18, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at Wednesday's general audience, which he dedicated to the spiritual journey of "Peter the fisherman."

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In the new series of catecheses we have tried to understand above all what the Church is, what the Lord's idea is about this new family. Then we said that the Church exists in people, and we have seen that the Lord entrusted this new reality, the Church, to the Twelve Apostles. Now we wish to contemplate them one by one, to understand through these persons what it means to live in the Church, to follow Christ. We begin with St. Peter.

After Jesus, Peter is the most known and quoted personality in the New Testament: He is mentioned 154 times with the nickname "Petros," "stone," "rock," which is the Greek translation of the Aramaic name that Jesus gave him directly, "Kefa," witnessed on nine occasions, especially in Paul's letters. Also to be added, moreover, is the name Simon, used frequently (75 times), which is the form adapted to the Greek of his original Hebrew name, Simeon (twice: Acts 15:14; 2 Peter 1:1).

Son of John (cf. John 1:42) or, in the Aramaic form, "bar-Jona," son of Jonas (cf. Matthew 16:17), Simon was from Bethsaida (John 1:44), a town that was located east of the Sea of Galilee, from which Philip also came and, of course, Andrew, Simon's brother. His accent when speaking was Galilean.

Like his brother, he was a fisherman: With the family of Zebedee, father of James and John, he headed a small fishing business on the Lake of Gennesaret (cf. Luke 5:10). For this reason, he must have enjoyed a certain financial ease and was animated by a sincere religiosity that moved him to go with his brother to Judea, to follow the preaching of John the Baptist (John 1:35-42).

He was a faithful Jew, who believed in God's active presence in the history of his people, and was pained at not seeing His powerful action in the events of which he was, at that time, a witness. He was married and his mother-in-law, cured one day by Jesus, lived in the city of Capernaum, in the house where Simon also stayed, when he was in that city (cf. Matthew 8:14ff; Mark 1:29ff; Luke 4:38ff).

Recent archaeological excavations have made it possible to bring out into the light, under the mosaic floor of octagonal shape of a small Byzantine church, the remains of a more ancient church, built in that house, as attested by the graffiti with invocations to Peter. The Gospels tell us that Peter was among the first four disciples of the Nazarene (cf. Luke 5:1-11), to whom was added a fifth in keeping with the custom of the rabbis to have five disciples (cf. Luke 5:27: the calling of Levi). When Jesus went from five to 12 disciples, the novelty of his mission became clear: He was not one of the many rabbis, but had come to gather the eschatological Israel, symbolized by the number 12, the number of the tribes of Israel.

Simon appears in the Gospels with a strong and impulsive character; he is ready to make his opinions felt, even by force (he used the sword in the Garden of Olives, cf. John 18:10ff). At the same time, he is also occasionally naive and fearful, yet honest and capable of sincere repentance (cf. Matthew 26:75). The Gospels allows us to follow his spiritual itinerary step by step.

The starting point was the call by Jesus, which came on a day like any other, while Peter was busy at his work as a fisherman. Jesus was on the Lake of Gennesaret and the crowds surrounded him to hear him. The number of those listening to him created certain difficulties. The Master saw two boats by the lake. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He asked them if he could get into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and he asked him to put out a little from the land. He sat down on that improvised chair, and taught the people from the boat (cf. Luke 5:1-3).

Thus, Peter's boat became Jesus' chair. When he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets" (Luke 5:10). Jesus, who was a carpenter, was not a fishing expert and, yet, Simon the fisherman trusted this Rabbi, who gave him no answers but called on him to have faith.

His reaction to the miraculous catch was one of astonishment and trepidation: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). Jesus replied inviting him to have confidence and to be open to a project that would surpass all expectations. "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men" (Luke 5:10). Peter could not yet imagine that one day he would arrive in Rome and would be there a ...

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