St. Peter’s imperfections and his role as a ‘wounded healer’

If you were going to choose the perfect person on whom to found a church, whom would you choose? Apparently not someone like St. Peter.

Peter – son of Jonah, brother of Andrew, a fisherman by trade, one of the first disciples, and the first bishop of Rome; he was originally called Simon, but was given the name Cephas (“rock”) by Jesus.

Christian tradition interprets this “rock” as the foundation on which the Lord set the church; but many who knew Cephas might have thought it was a nickname for a disciple who wasn’t too bright and had a habit of demonstrating that fact.

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When Jesus asked the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” Peter rightly answered “You are the Christ,” although events showed he had no idea of what that meant.

When he recognized the Lord walking toward him on the water, Peter stepped out of the boat – but lacking faith, plunged into the sea.

On the night Jesus was arrested, Peter repeatedly denied he even knew Jesus, and when the Lord commissioned him with the task to “feed my sheep” he repeated it three times, perhaps just to be sure Peter got it.

“He was always getting things wrong,” Father James Martin writes in “My Life with the Saints.” And still he is among the greatest of the saints, Martin says, exactly because of his shortcomings, his doubt and, most of all, his keen awareness of those faults.

“Only someone like Peter, who understood his own sinfulness and the redeeming love of Christ, would be able to … lead others to Jesus,” Martin writes.

Once in seminary, one of my classmates said he thought Jesus set a bad precedent by choosing Peter, creating an example which would too often produce leaders who are no smarter, holier or faithful than the people they serve.

No, the professor responded, the problem is not leaders who are no better than the people they serve; the problem is those who think and act like they are.

Peter is a reminder and a model, I think, for all of us who are called to be disciples, ordained or not — an example of what the late Henri Nouwen called “the wounded healer.”

We do not have to be smarter, holier or more faithful than anyone else. But we do have to recognize our own ­weaknesses, shortcomings and sinfulness in order to first experience and then to share God’s infinite love and unconditional mercy.

This is the way Father Gregory Boyle put it recently on C-SPAN2: “If we are strangers to ourselves we can’t be compassionate. … [It’s only when] you are familiar with your brokenness … that your heart can be broken by the very thing that breaks the heart of God.”

What do you think?

Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how aware you are of how your own brokenness enables you to serve others better. How would you have rated your awareness five years ago?
  • Can you think of examples of church leaders, ordained or not, who were especially compassionate? Do you know people who have been hurt because leaders were not? Have you thought about how your own weakness or sinfulness makes you a better parent, grandparent or teacher? How can we help our children, grandchildren and students learn to acknowledge their own weaknesses and be more understanding of others’?
  • I think the key to being a compassionate disciple is …

Learn More

Read Pope Francis’ address to the bishops of Chile: http://bit.do/francis-in-chile.

Watch Fr. Gregory Boyle’s presentation on C-SPAN2: http://bit.do/greg-boyle.

Join the Conversation

Add your comments to this week’s discussion at http://bit.do/disciples-corner.

Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.

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