Pope Francis to Rome's priests: Imitate Saint Peter's faith

By Hannah Brockhaus

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Pope Francis awaits penitents ahead of his address to the priests of the Diocese of Rome at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, March 2, 2017. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis met Thursday with priests of the Diocese of Rome, delivering a lengthy meditation on St. Peter and his example of faith – which, though imperfect, grows and develops throughout his discipleship.

Looking at the Gospels, “we see that the faith of Simon Peter has a special character: it is a proven faith, and with it he has a mission to confirm and strengthen the faith of his brothers, our faith,” he said March 2.

St. Peter had moments of both weakness and greatness in his faith, the Bishop of Rome pointed out.

But in the end, if we follow his example and have the same “awareness of having ‘little faith,’ along with the humility to let ourselves be helped … this is the point of healthy self-esteem in which is rooted the seed of that faith ‘to confirm others,’” he said.

As well as to ability to follow the command “‘to build upon this rock’ which is what Jesus wants from Simon Peter and from us who participate in the ministry” of priesthood, the Pope explained.

The meeting between Pope Francis and priests of the Diocese of Rome takes place annually at the start of Lent at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral church of Rome.

After hearing the confessions of 15 priests, the Pope said he would give a slightly abbreviated version of the lengthy meditation he had prepared, although printed versions of the full text were handed out to the clergy to read during “these days of Lent.”

He concluded the meeting by leading the Angelus.

His meditation reflected on the theme of faith in general, and how the priests can help it grow and mature within themselves in order to better lead others to grow in their faith, and focused, in-depth, on scenes between Christ and St. Peter in the Gospels.

Because if we priests don’t have the habit of growing and maturing our faith, Francis asked, how can we expect to help grow and develop the faith of others?

“The faith of Simon Peter is less than that of many of the small faithful people of God,” he said. “There are even the pagans, like the centurion, who have greater faith in time to ask for the healing of a sufferer of their family.”

“Simon's faith is slower than that of Mary Magdalene and John. John believes just seeing the sign of the shroud and recognizes the Lord on the shore of the lake just listening to his words.”

But St. Peter’s faith “has moments of greatness” as well, the Pope said, such as when he confesses that Jesus is the Messiah.

“I would say that is a sharable faith, perhaps because it is not so admirable. The faith of one who had learned to walk on water without tribulations would be fascinating, but maybe push us away,” he said.

“Instead, this faith from a good friend, aware of his smallness and who fully trusts in Jesus, raises our sympathy and – this is his grace – confirms us!”

The Pope’s meditation also emphasized the importance of prayer in a priest’s life, pointing out how Christ himself says he has prayed for St. Peter in Luke 22:31-32: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.”

“The fact that the Lord expressly says that he prays for Simon is extremely important, because the most insidious temptation of the devil is that, along with some special test, we feel that Jesus has abandoned us, that somehow he has left us alone and he did not help us as he should have,” Francis said.

“The Lord himself has experienced and overcome this temptation, first in the garden and then on the cross, trusting in the Father's hands when he felt abandoned.”

“It is in this point of the faith that we need to be specially and carefully strengthened and confirmed,” he said. But in the Lord’s care “we find the strength we need.”

“The Lord asks us to pray continually and persistently,” he continued.

“As priests who take part in the Petrine ministry, in what he is to us, we take part in the same mission: not only do we have to wash the feet of our brothers, as we do on Holy Thursday, but we have to confirm them in their faith, showing how the Lord prayed for ours.”

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