The apostle Peter (whose given name was Simon son of Jonah) was raised in towns around the Sea of Galilee. As a Jewish boy he would receive religious education and formation in the Jewish faith between the ages of 5 and 13. He then was apprenticed to his life’s work as a fisherman. Peter’s faith was very important to him and he would regularly attend religious services on the Sabbath.
Fishing was a major industry in Galilee with the catch not only being consumed locally, but exported throughout the Roman world. There was fierce competition on the Sea of Galilee with over 200 fishing boats competing in eight by thirteen mile Sea. Peter and his brother Andrew were very successful in spite of the heavy taxes on the fish they caught. They owned their home and in busy times hired day laborers to help with the catch.
Peter’s life changed when he met Jesus. Luke 5: 1 – 11 has the story of Jesus telling Peter to put out his boat in the middle of the day to fish. Peter, who had just come in from a fruitless night of fishing, was skeptical, but followed Jesus’ instruction. Peter caught so many fish that he needed a second boat to bring to help bring in the catch. For Peter this experience of abundance was a sign of God’s presence. He asked Jesus to leave him, Jesus instead told Peter that he would become a fisher of men.
Peter and Andrew left their fishing boats behind and followed Jesus. Jesus recognized in Peter a man strong and smart enough to be the leader of his disciples (Matthew 14: 28 – 31). Initially Peter assumed that he would be a tough leader building an earthly kingdom. In the approximately three years together Jesus did his best to help Peter and the other apostles understand that he had a different kingdom in mind. Finally, when Jesus was arrested Peter drew a sword to defend him. But Jesus told him to put up the sword and healed the man Peter injured (Luke 22:51). Later Peter’s courage failed him as he denied knowing Jesus (Matthew 26: 69 – 75). Peter left weeping bitterly (Luke 22: 32 – 33).
Peter is one of the first to see Jesus following the Resurrection and to experience Jesus’ forgiving love (Luke 24: 34). The Gospel of John relates Jesus’ reaffirmation of Peter’s leadership (John 21: 15 – 19) as Jesus appointed him to be the shepherd of the flock. He also predicts Peter’s ultimate sacrifice as Peter would be bound and led to places he did not want to go (John 21: 18 – 19).
The Acts of the Apostles tells the story of Peter’s leadership in the early Church. Tradition tells of Peter’s last years in Rome pastoring the flock until his crucifixion upside down during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Nero in about 65 AD.
Jesus knew what he wanted when he chose Peter. He chose an intelligent, capable, proven leader. Over the course of his ministry on earth Jesus trained Peter to be shepherd he needed to pastor the Church in its early years. St. Peter was a man of deep faith who was open to the grace of the Holy Spirit and learned that the true shepherd is the one who lays down his life for his flock.
St. Peter, called by Jesus to be the first pope, is recorded more than any other apostle in the New Testament. A fisherman called by Christ to leave his nets and become a “fisher of men,” St. Peter was at Jesus’ side throughout much of his public ministry. After the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ – and his subsequent ascension into heaven – St. Peter led the early church through expansion and persecution. When he was sentenced to death by crucifixion under Emperor Nero in 64 AD, St. Peter chose to be crucified upside-down, stating he was unworthy to die in the same way as the Messiah. His remains are revered in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where the faithful come to honor both him and his successors as the Vicar of Christ and His Church on earth.
The early life of St. Peter is largely unknown, since the first documentations of him begin with him as an apostle of Christ. St. Peter, originally known as Simon, was from Bethsaida, near Lake Tiberius. His father’s name was John, and his brother was Andrew (i.e. St. Andrew). St. Peter and St. Andrew were fishermen on Lake Genesareth. It was St. Andrew who introduced St. Peter to Jesus. The story is told in the Gospel of St. Luke, in which St. Peter draws in such a large load of fish in his net that he fell before Jesus’ feet in amazement. Jesus told St. Peter not to be afraid, and that from now on, he would be a “fisher of men.”
Throughout the public ministry of Jesus Christ, St. Peter was often at his side. He is mentioned in many stories in the Gospels, some of which were the Transfiguration of Christ, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the agony experienced by Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before He was to die. It was in the garden that St. Peter, overcome with zeal and love for Jesus, drew his sword on one of the men who had come to take Christ away, cutting off his ear. Jesus healed the man and rebuked St. Peter’s actions. Shortly after, when St. Peter was asked if he was a disciple of Jesus Christ, he denied his association three times. This had previously been predicted by Christ at the Last Supper. When St. Peter realized his betrayal, he went off and wept bitterly over his unfaithfulness. Upon hearing about the resurrection of Christ, St. Peter ran (along with St. John) to the empty tomb. After asking St. Peter three times if he loved Him, Christ invited St. Peter to feed His sheep.
St. Peter did, indeed, feed the Lord’s sheep, particularly in the years after Christ’s ascension into heaven. After St. Peter professed that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Jesus said “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” He also stated “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In these two proclamations by Jesus, St. Peter was established as the first pope of His Church on earth. At Pentecost, St. Peter addressed the crowds first. He also was the first of the apostles to begin performing miracles in Christ’s name. St. Peter’s support of sharing the Good News with the Gentiles made the Church truly Catholic, or “universal,” since the message was spread to everyone, regardless of origin.
St. Peter traveled through many regions, including Jerusalem, Antioch, and Corinth, sharing the Gospel message and converting people to Christianity. The last city he was to visit was Rome, where, in the year 64, St. Peter was martyred under the Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christianity. St. Peter was to be martyred through crucifixion. He stated that he was unworthy to die in the same way as the Lord had, and so was crucified upside-down. He was buried on Vatican Hill. Many years later, excavations beneath St. Peter’s Basilica led to the discovery of the bones of St. Peter. They are enshrined beneath the high altar in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican to this day. Following his death, a new pope, Linus,
was selected. This succession has continued through the ages, up to the present with Pope Francis. The feast day of St. Peter is June 29.
Patronage of St. Peter
St. Peter is the patron saint of fishermen, locksmiths, builders/stonemasons, ship builders and sailors, shoemakers, those with foot ailments, the papacy, and the Universal Church.
St. Peter in Art
When depicted in artwork, St. Peter is usually accompanied by symbols representing his life and death. Among these are a book, a rooster, keys, and an inverted cross. The book refers to 1 and 2 Peter in the New Testament of the Bible. The rooster is a reminder of when St. Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed the night that Christ was arrested. St. Peter is shown holding the keys as a symbol of Jesus telling him in Matthew 16 that “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Lastly, the inverted cross is a sign of the method of martyrdom used in St. Peter’s death, for he did not want to be crucified in the same way that Christ had been and thus was crucified upside-down.
St. Peter Medals
A medallion or medal of St. Peter will typically depict him holding large keys, a symbol of Jesus handing him the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matt 16). This reference lives on in the contemporary ideas of Peter as the gatekeeper for the pearly gates of heaven.
Prayers of St. Peter
Prayer to St. Peter
O Glorious Saint Peter, because of your vibrant and generous faith, sincere humility and flaming love our Lord honored you with singular privileges and especially leadership of the whole Church. Obtain for us the grace of a living faith, a sincere loyalty to the Church, acceptance of all her teaching, and obedience to all her precepts. Let us thus enjoy an undisturbed peace on earth and everlasting happiness in heaven.
Prayer to St. Peter
Thou art the Shepherd of the sheep, the Prince of the Apostles, unto thee were given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. “Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church.” Raise us up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, by the apostolic assistance of blessed Peter, Thine Apostle; so that the weaker we are, the more mightily we may be helped by the power of his intercession; and that being perpetually defended by the same holy apostle, we may neither yield to any iniquity, nor be overcome by any adversity. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for Feast Day of St. Peter
God, You give us a holy joy as we celebrate the solemnity of the Apostle St. Peter. Grant that Your Church may follow his teachings and example in all things, for it is through him that Christianity began its development. Amen.
Prayer to St. Peter
O glorious Saint Peter, who, in return for thy strong and generous faith, thy profound and sincere humility, and they burning love, was rewarded by Jesus Christ with singular privileges, and, in particular, with the leadership of the other Apostles and the primacy of the whole Church, of which thou was made the foundation stone, do thou obtain for us the grace of a lively faith, that shall not fear to profess itself openly, in its entirety and in all of its manifestations, even to the shedding of blood, if occasion should demand it, and to sacrifice of life itself rather than surrender. Obtain for us likewise, a sincere loyalty to our holy mother, the Church; grant that we may ever remain most closely and sincerely united to the Roman Pontiff, who is the heir of thy faith and of thy authority, the one, true, visible Head of the Catholic Church, that mystic ark outside of which there is no salvation. Grant, moreover, that we may follow, in all humility and meekness, her teaching and her advice, and may be obedient to all her precepts, in order to be able here on earth to enjoy a peace that is sure and undisturbed, and to attain one day in heaven to everlasting happiness. Amen.
V. Pray for us, Saint Peter the Apostle,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
LET US PRAY.
O God, who hast given unto Thy blessed Apostle Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and the power to bind and loose: grant that we may be delivered, through the help of this intercession, from the slavery of all our sins: Who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.