Chair of St. Peter
This feast commemorates Christâ€™s choosing Peter to sit in his place as the servant-authority of the whole Church (see June 29).
After the â€œlost weekendâ€ of pain, doubt and self-torment, Peter hears the Good News. Angels at the tomb say to Magdalene, â€œThe Lord has risen! Go, tell his disciples and Peter.â€ 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: â€œ...[T]hey did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the deadâ€ (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. â€œPeace be with you,â€ he said (John 20:21b), and they rejoiced.
The Pentecost event completed Peterâ€™s experience of the risen Christ. â€œ...[T]hey were all filled with the holy Spiritâ€ (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: â€œ...
- nce you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothersâ€ (Luke 22:32). He at once becomes the spokesman for the Twelve about their experience of the Holy Spiritâ€”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, â€œ...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...â€ (Galatians 2:11b, 14a).
At the end of Johnâ€™s Gospel, Jesus says to Peter, â€œAmen, 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 goâ€ (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 martyrâ€™s death, probably in the company of many Christians.
Second-century Christians built a small memorial over his burial spot. In the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine built a basilica, which was replaced in the 16th century.
This saintly man's life is perhaps best summed up at his meeting with Jesus after the resurrection in the presence of the men Peter was to lead. In imitation of Peter's triple denial, Jesus asked him three times, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" (John 21:16b). Peter answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. . . . Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (John 21:16c, 17b).
Like the committee chair, this chair refers to the occupant, not the furniture. Its first occupant stumbled a bit, denying Jesus three times and hesitating to welcome gentiles into the new Church. Some of its later occupants have also stumbled a bit, sometimes even failed scandalously. As individuals, we may sometimes think a particular pope has let us down. Still, the office endures as a sign of the long tradition we cherish and as a focus for the universal Church.
Peter described our Christian calling in the opening of his First Letter, â€œBlessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...â€ (1 Peter 1:3a).