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Penedict XVI on Peter, the Apostle

5/25/2006 - 7:00 AM PST

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"Impetuous Generosity Does Not Safeguard Him"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 25, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at Wednedsay's general audience in St. Peter's Square. The Pope dedicated his talk to the theme "Peter, the Apostle."

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In these catecheses we are meditating on the Church. We have said that the Church lives in people and because of this, in the last catechesis, we began to meditate on the figure of the individual apostles, beginning with St. Peter. We saw two decisive stages of his life: the calling on the Lake of Galilee and then the confession of faith: "You are the Christ, the Messiah." A confession, we said, that is still insufficient, initial though open.

St. Peter undertakes a journey of following. Thus, this initial confession already bears in itself, like a seed, the future faith of the Church. Today we wish to consider two other events in the life of St. Peter: the multiplication of the loaves. We just heard in the passage read the Lord's question and Peter's answer, and then the passage when the Lord calls Peter to be shepherd of the universal Church.

We begin with the event of the multiplication of loaves. You know that the people had heard the Lord for hours. At the end, Jesus said: They are tired, they are hungry, we must give these people something to eat. The apostles asked him: But how? And Andrew, Peter's brother, calls Jesus' attention to a boy who was carrying five loaves and two fish. But of what use are these for so many people? the apostles wondered.

Then the Lord had the people sit down and had the five loaves and two fish distributed. And all were filled. What is more, the Lord asked the apostles, and among them Peter, to gather the abundant leftovers: 12 baskets of bread (cf. John 12-13). Then the people, seeing this miracle -- which seemed to be the much-awaited renewal of the new "manna," the gift of bread from heaven -- want to make him their king.

But Jesus did not accept and withdrew to the mountain to pray alone. The following day, on the other side of the lake, in the synagogue of Capernaum, Jesus interpreted the miracle -- not in the sense of kingship over Israel with a power of this world in the manner expected by the crowd, but in the sense of gift of self: "The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51). Jesus announces the cross and with the cross the true multiplication of loaves, of the Eucharistic bread -- his absolutely new way of being king, a way totally contrary to the people's expectations.

We can understand that these words of the Master -- who did not want to carry out a multiplication of loaves every day, who did not want to offer Israel a power of this world -- were truly difficult, even unacceptable, for the people. "Gives his flesh" -- what does this mean? And even for the disciples, what Jesus said at this moment seemed unacceptable. It was and is for our heart, for our mentality, a "hard" saying that puts faith to the test (cf. John 6:60). Many of the disciples withdrew. They wanted someone who would really renew the state of Israel, its people, and not someone who said: "I give my flesh."

We can imagine that Jesus' words were difficult also for Peter, who at Caesarea Philippi was opposed to the prophecy of the cross. And yet, when Jesus asked the Twelve: "Do you also want to go away?", Peter reacted with the outburst of his generous heart, guided by the Holy Spirit. In the name of all he responds with immortal words, which are also our words: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (cf. John 6:66-69).

Here, as in Caesarea, Peter initiates with his words the confession of the Church's Christological faith and also becomes the voice of the other apostles and of us believers of all times. This does not mean that he had understood the mystery of Christ in all its profundity. His was still an initial faith, a journeying faith. It would come to true fullness only through the experience of the paschal events.

But, nevertheless, it was already faith, open to a greater reality -- open above all because it was not faith in something, but faith in Someone: in him, Christ. Thus our faith is also an initial faith and we must still journey a long way. However, it is essential that it be an open faith that lets itself be guided by Jesus, because not only does he know the way, but he is the way.

Peter's impetuous generosity does not safeguard him, however, from the risks connected to human weakness. It is what we can also recognize based on our lives. Peter followed Jesus with drive; he surmounted the test of faith, abandoning himself to him. But the moment comes when he also gives way to fear and falls: He betrays the ...

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