This feast commemorates Christ’s choosing Peter to sit in his place as the servant-authority of the whole Church (see June 29).
After the “lost weekend” of pain, doubt and self-torment, Peter hears the Good News. Angels at the tomb say to Magdalene, “The Lord has risen! Go, tell his disciples and Peter.” John relates that when he and Peter ran to the tomb, the younger outraced the older, then waited for him. Peter entered, saw the wrappings on the ground, the headpiece rolled up in a place by itself. John saw and believed. But he adds a reminder: “..[T]hey did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). They went home. There the slowly exploding, impossible idea became reality. Jesus appeared to them as they waited fearfully behind locked doors. “Peace be with you,” he said (John 20:21b), and they rejoiced.
The Pentecost event completed Peter’s experience of the risen Christ. “...[T]hey were all filled with the holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4a) and began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them.
Only then can Peter fulfill the task Jesus had given him: “... [O]nce you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). He at once becomes the spokesman for the Twelve about their experience of the Holy Spirit—before the civil authorities who wished to quash their preaching, before the council of Jerusalem, for the community in the problem of Ananias and Sapphira. He is the first to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. The healing power of Jesus in him is well attested: the raising of Tabitha from the dead, the cure of the crippled beggar. People carry the sick into the streets so that when Peter passed his shadow might fall on them.
Even a saint experiences difficulty in Christian living. When Peter stopped eating with Gentile converts because he did not want to wound the sensibilities of Jewish Christians, Paul says, “...I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong.... [T]hey were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel...” (Galatians 2:11b, 14a).
At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus says to Peter, “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). What Jesus said indicated the sort of death by which Peter was to glorify God. On Vatican Hill, in Rome, during the reign of Nero, Peter did glorify his Lord with a martyr’s death, probably in the company of many Christians.
The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter celebrates the papacy and St. Peter as the first bishop of Rome. St. Peter's original name was Simon. He was married with children and was living and working in Capernaum as a fisherman when Jesus called him to be one of the Twelve Apostles.
Jesus bestowed to Peter a special place among the Apostles. He was one of the three who were with Christ on special occasions, such as the Transfiguration of Christ and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani. He was the only Apostle to whom Christ appeared on the first day after the Resurrection. Peter, in turn, often spoke on behalf of the Apostles.
When Jesus asked the Apostles: "Whom do men say that the Son of Man is?"
Simon replied: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
And Jesus said: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood have not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you: That you are Peter [Cephas, a rock], and upon this rock [Cephas] I will build my Church [ekklesian], and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven". (Mt 16:13-20)
In saying this Jesus made St. Peter the head of the entire community of believers and placed the spiritual guidance of the faithful in St. Peter’s hands.
However, St. Peter was not without faults. He was rash and reproached often by Christ. He had fallen asleep in the Garden of Gethsemani instead of praying, as Jesus had asked him to do. He also denied knowing Jesus three times after Christ’s arrest.
Peter delivered the first public sermon after the Pentecost and won a large number of converts. He also performed many miracles and defended the freedom of the Apostles to preach the Gospels. He preached in Jerusalem, Judaea, and as far north as Syria.
He was arrested in Jerusalem under Herod Agrippa I, but miraculously escaped execution. He left Jerusalem and eventually went to Rome, where he preached during the last portion of his life. He was crucified there, head downwards, as he had desired to suffer, saying that he did not deserve to die as Christ had died.
The date of St. Peter's death is not clear. Historians estimate he was executed between the years 64 and 68. His remains now rest beneath the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Via Rorate Caeli, I note the Holy Father's greeting today to German speaking pilgrims in Rome, "Let us ask Saint Peter for his intercession so that the bewilderment and the storms do not shake the Church, that we remain faithful to a genuine Faith, keep unity, and live together in charity."