Peter was free because he was set free.
At the heart of Peter’s story is not his own gifts and abilities; at the center is the encounter with Christ that changed his life. He experienced a love that healed him and set him free. Then he became an apostle and minister of freedom for others.
Peter, the fisherman from Galilee, was set free above all from his sense of inadequacy and his bitter experience of failure, thanks to the unconditional love of Jesus. Although a skilled fisher, many times, in the heart of the night, he tasted the bitterness of frustration at having caught nothing (cf. Lk 5:5; Jn 21:5) and, seeing his empty nets, was tempted to pull up his oars. Though strong and impetuous, Peter often yielded to fear (cf. Mt 14:30). Albeit a fervent disciple of the Lord, he continued to think by worldly standards, and thus failed to understand and accept the meaning of Christ’s cross (cf. Mt 16:22). Even after saying that he was ready to give his life for Jesus, the mere suspicion that he was one of Christ’s disciples led him in fright to deny the Master (cf. Mk 14:66-72).
Jesus nonetheless loved Peter and was willing to take a risk on him. He encouraged Peter not to give up, to lower his nets once more, to walk on water, to find the strength to accept his own frailty, to follow him on the way of the cross, to give his life for his brothers and sisters, to shepherd his flock. In this way, Jesus set Peter free from fear, from calculations based solely on worldly concerns. He gave him the courage to risk everything and the joy of becoming a fisher of men. It was Peter whom Jesus called to strengthen his brothers in faith (cf. Lk 22:32). He gave him – as we heard in the Gospel – the keys to open the doors leading to an encounter with the Lord and the power to bind and loose: to bind his brothers and sisters to Christ and to loosen the knots and chains in their lives (cf. Mt 16:19).
To Peter, Jesus gently says: “I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32). He does the same with us: he assures us of his closeness by praying and interceding for us before the Father, and gently reproaching us whenever we go astray, so that we can find the strength to arise and resume the journey.
We too have been touched by the Lord; we too have been set free. Yet we need to be set free time and time again. Like Peter, we are called to be set free from a sense of failure before our occasionally disastrous fishing. To be set free from the fear that paralyzes us, makes us seek refuge in our own securities, and robs us of the courage of prophecy.
To what extent does our world need freedom? How many chains must be shattered and how many doors long shut must be opened! We can help bring this freedom, but only if we first let ourselves be set free by the newness of Jesus, and walk in the freedom of the Holy Spirit.
-Adapted from a homily of Pope Francis on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29, 2021