Reflection from the BASIC Leadership Retreat 2010.
St. Peter is famous for being known as “the Rock,” the man on whom our Lord built His Holy Church. What is remarkable about this characteristic of Peter is that it is not merely the product of the tradition of men. As we know from Sacred Scripture, it is Jesus Himself who bestowed Simon bar Jona with this “nickname.” Our Lord Himself deigned Simon to become the foundation of the Church. However, for the artist formerly known as Simon, Cephas is more than a mere nickname. It really is a new name, a new identity for Peter. And so Peter gains his essential characteristic, what throughout history he is best known for and indeed is identified with, directly from Jesus Himself. It is a gift, pure and simple, Person to person.
In a real way, Peter’s situation is the same for all of us. The particular gifts of leadership, which we all possess whether we know it or not, are all gifts directly from the hand of the Lord Himself. Just like Peter, what good things we have come from Jesus’ direct, personal love for each one of us. Indeed it is this divine love that spurs us on to give of ourselves in the ways we have on our particular campuses, and which has brought us here together tonight.
However, just as we can all identify with Peter’s indebtedness to the Lord, so too can we identify with Peter’s failures. We all fail in our roles of leadership, perhaps even more often than we succeed. Certainly we fail more than we would like to admit. However, this all was true for Peter as well. Peter was a fisherman, an ordinary man, and like all ordinary people, he failed, not just once here or there, but often. He doubts our Lord on the lake, just before making the catch of 168 fish, and when our Lord beckons him to walk on the water. He gets jealous and proud, heatedly debating with the other Apostles about whom amongst them is the greatest. He falls asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, even after Jesus in His agony exhorted him to keep watch. In a rage he cuts off the ear of one of the men attempting to arrest Jesus. He gets scared, fleeing Jesus’ side once he is handed over to the Pharisees. He even denies knowledge of Jesus when questioned of his allegiances by a humble maidservant. One can’t be much worse of an Apostle than that, right? And all this is after Jesus has declared Peter “the Rock.” How mysterious, to say the least, that our Lord, with his foreknowledge of Peter’s failures, would still deem to call him the rock!
What makes Peter extraordinary in all of this is his habit of repentance. It is his willingness to acknowledge his weakness, his sinfulness, and his readiness to turn back to the Lord, indeed fall at his feet and declare himself a sinful man, that makes Peter worthy of imitation. We are all sinners, are we not? We fail many times every day, don’t we? Thus Peter, in his conversion, becomes an especially universal symbol and a particularly relevant early leader of the Church to meditate on and imitate. To make an analogy, one cannot have a physical rock without many centuries of the pressure and heat of fire. Likewise can’t have a spiritual rock without the forging of the burning desire for repentance and mercy.
Of course it is this humbling of himself that made St. Peter great. His repentance would be worthless, indeed would hardly be conversion at all, if he merely continued to rely on his own power and his own efforts in his leadership of the Church. It is precisely Peter’s continually increasing reliance on the Lord that allowed him to do the absolutely incredible feats recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. A couple thousand converts in one day don’t come from human power alone. It is precisely this need to rely on the Lord in a greater, deeper, richer way that has brought us here together tonight. This retreat, especially this evening, is designed to provide the opportunity for just such a deepening of our friendship and intimacy with the Lord, in order to strengthen our leadership efforts.
We can all relate to St. Peter, since we are all ordinary men and women. Our Lord chose an ordinary man, not even most excellent of his peer Apostles (think of St. John, the beloved, or St. James, who had such zeal), to be the rock of His Holy Church. Just so, even though we are merely ordinary people, Jesus has chosen us in a particular way to be leaders in our own “churches,” our own campus ministries, our own daily campus lives. The key is to imitate Peter in his willingness to change, to convert, and to turn his gaze back upon the Lord, indeed commend himself entirely into His hands. Only in this way will our leadership efforts bear fruit. God willing they will, through the spiritual work of this retreat, be multiplied many times over, as they were for Peter and the Apostles.