Catholic Church, Catholic News Herald, Communion of Saints, Faith, Scripture, Theology

St. Peter and the Storms of Life

This article was originally published in The Catholic News Herald of the diocese of Charlotte.

One of my favorite scenes in the Bible is when Jesus walks on the water of the Sea of Galilee and calls St. Peter to come out to Him. And Peter does it. He steps out of the boat and onto the water, and he walks toward Our Lord. But then he notices the wind and the storm around him, and he begins to sink. It’s easy to imagine how his fear must have risen as he sank into the cold water. He had been a fisherman on that sea probably his whole life; he knew the dangers and treacheries of the sea during a storm. Perhaps he had seen men drown, or perhaps he simply knew of those who had gone out onto the water and never came back.

He stepped out of that boat with such confidence when the Lord called to him, just as he had already left behind his fishing nets and all that he had known when Jesus said, “Follow me.” Then, as soon as he perceived how the world raged around him, he lost heart and began to be pulled under. But that is not the end of the scene. In his fear and distress, Peter cried, “Save me, Lord!” As St. Matthew tells us, Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him. With only a slight reprimand about his lack of faith, Peter is once again safe in the boat and the storm is calmed.

I love this scene because of how it illuminates the character of St. Peter, and perhaps because I relate to it more than I always care to admit. In his book “Life of Christ,” Blessed Archbishop Fulton Sheen says of St. Peter: “He was impulsive to an extreme degree, guided more by feeling than by reason. He wanted to walk on the waters and, given the power, became frightened and screamed in fear – he a man of the sea. … But through the power of his Divine Master this impetuous man, as fluid as water, was turned into the rock on which Christ built His Church.”

Several years ago, I was blessed to be able to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and spent some of that time on the Sea of Galilee. While I was there, we had beautifully calm and clear weather, thankfully. We were taken out on the water and given a demonstration of how the fishing was done in the time of the apostles.

And we went to the shore where Jesus met the apostles after His Resurrection and cooked them fish over a charcoal fire, and where He asked Peter three times if he loved Him. As I stood at the water’s edge and tried to put myself in that moment, it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the emotions of it.

Imagine the person that you love and respect most in the world, a person that you have sworn that you would do anything for, sacrifice all that you have for them. Perhaps it’s your best friend, or your spouse, or your child. Now imagine that you have just witnessed them experience the ultimate suffering and pain, and yet you did not stand by them. You failed in every promise you ever made to them, and you let them suffer alone and forsaken. You have betrayed every concept of love and loyalty. And yet, this person comes to you, offers complete forgiveness, not only accepting your love again but entrusting you with the love and care of others.

That location on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus told St. Peter to feed His sheep and His lambs is called the Primacy of St. Peter. However, what strikes me about that scene is not just the great commission that Peter is given, but the great forgiveness. Peter is mentioned in the Gospels more than all the rest of the apostles combined, is the supreme leader of the Twelve, and yet is not even to be found at the foot of the Cross, unlike Our Lady, St. John and the other holy women. Peter denied Jesus three times in the worst hours, and yet redeems himself with true repentance and love.

That scene of Peter’s attempt to walk on the water toward Our Lord is a model for us all, especially in the most difficult times of life. We often take that first step with the best of intentions and with complete faith in God. But then we look around and we start to notice the frantic winds around us, we hear the noise that overwhelms our peace, and we become frightened. It’s our fear that makes us sink. However, Jesus is still there; He doesn’t call us out of the boat just to let us drown. He wants us to have faith, He wants us to walk on our own with that faith, but He is still there to pull us up when we falter, if only we will call to Him. And if we are able to keep our eyes fixed on Him, so that we don’t even notice the winds of the world, perhaps we would not falter at all.

St. Peter, like all the apostles and like all of us, was an ordinary and sinful man, by his own declaration. Yet he was redeemed and came to change the whole world by his love for Christ and Christ’s love for him, which is a gift and a path open to every one of us. Let us pray that when God calls us out of the safety of our own boats, we will have the faith to take that first step and to keep our eyes on the glory of Our Lord that we might remain with Him.

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