“Oh, I just love Peter,” my five-year-old laughed.
We were reading a bedtime story about the first Easter, and one of the images in her picture book showed the Last Supper. One apostle was reaching over the others to take a piece of the Eucharistic bread that Jesus was offering him.
“That guy is reaching over all the others so he can be first,” she said, very amused. “It must be Peter!”
“Why do you think it’s St. Peter?” I asked, laughing too.
“You know Peter! He’s always getting into mischief!” she said, laughing harder. “That’s why he’s my favorite after my patron saint and my guardian angel.”
I found it so funny that she has such a warm affection for the apostle who became the first pope. But I’m not all that surprised.
I do talk to my kids about St. Peter quite a lot. You see, he’s my favorite saint, too.
I first started to love St. Peter when I was in college and read through the entire New Testament for the first time. I noticed a pattern: Whenever an apostle was getting into trouble or putting his foot in his mouth, it was almost always St. Peter.
Just think about it. St. Peter is the one who got out of the boat to walk on water when he saw Jesus doing it, then he totally panicked and began to sink.
On Mount Tabor, he doesn’t know what to do with himself when he sees Jesus transfigured in glory with Moses and Elijah. So he self-consciously says, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Socially awkward people everywhere might have found their patron saint.
Then there’s the time that St. Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus warmly affirms that God the Father must have revealed this to Peter, and calls Peter the rock on which he will build his Church (Matthew 16:13-19). Sounds great, right?
But in the very next paragraph, Peter “rebukes” Jesus for saying that he will suffer and die, and Jesus sternly responds, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Matthew 16:23). These are some of the harshest words Jesus says in the whole Bible, and they’re directed at St. Peter, the very same man he chose to lead the entire Church after his Ascension.
Then there’s the moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, when soldiers come to arrest Jesus and Peter totally loses his head: “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.” (John 18:10). His instinct to protect Jesus was a good one, but again we see Peter acting first and stopping to think later.
And of course, St. Peter goes in the same night from insisting that he would rather die alongside Jesus than deny him (“Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you”) to denying Jesus three times (Matthew 26).
As my kids would say, “Oh, Peter. There he goes again.”
But this is why we love St. Peter so much. If a guy who messed up so many times could go on to become the first pope and one of the greatest saints who ever lived, what hope can that give to the rest of us?
We can mess up, we can be awkward, we can have moments when our faith wavers, and we can make mistakes. And if we keep trying again, we too can achieve incredible things with God.
Because, of course, trying again is St. Peter’s great strength and a key reason he was such a good leader. Peter might have been impetuous and hasty; he might have said or done something without thinking on one too many occasions.
But he never, ever gave up or stopped trying to do better next time. He was never too proud to ask for God’s forgiveness.
My kids and I talk about this a lot. We talk about how everyone makes mistakes, but God will always forgive us if we ask. St. Peter reminds us of this truth so powerfully.
He was something of a hothead, but he was also humble and faithful. And his eagerness to keep trying again, no matter what, makes him an amazing role model for all of us, especially in those moments when we’ve messed up big time and feel like we’ve ruined everything.
When this came up the other day during our morning Bible reading, I paused to muse aloud, “I wonder why St. Peter was so good at trying again. He just never gave up, you know?”
“I know why!” piped up my second grader. “Because he was a fisherman!”
I have to tell you, that stopped me in my tracks. I was totally confused.
“He was a … fisherman? What does that have to do with anything?”
“Mom! Don’t you know when you go fishing you have to try again and again and again?! You have to try so many times! And never give up!”
Wow, that actually made perfect sense. My kids had recently gone fishing with relatives and it seemed they’d picked up on more than I realized.
So now I know the real reason St. Peter had such a persevering spirit. I’m thinking I need to take my kids fishing a few more times this spring and summer. Hopefully it has half as good an effect on us as it had on St. Peter!