Weak Enough to Love God: St. Peter’s Surprising Humanity


Learn more about how we can support you in response to the coronavirus in this letter from our president and publisher.

Weak Enough to Love God: St. Peter’s Surprising Humanity

by James Martin, SJ

Saint Peter, whom Jesus called to “feed my sheep,” to shepherd the fledgling Christian community, to lead his infant church, was a flawed human being. (Even the nickname apparently bestowed on him by Jesus—Cephas, or Peter, meaning “Rocky”—affirms the angularity of Peter’s character.) From the beginning, Peter was acutely aware of his own sinfulness and own weakness. Near the opening of the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus first meets Peter and performs a miracle before him, Peter cowers in shame, and says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

This is not false humility. They are the words of someone who, in the face of the divine mystery, manifests a profound understanding of his own sinfulness and personal limitations. It is also a natural response to the transcendent. Such an awareness is central to the development of the Christian life: it is the sign of a humility that marks the beginning of a true relationship with God. This is the reason that early in his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, asks the person making the retreat to pray for “an interior knowledge of my sins...and the disorder of my actions.”

Anyone who reads even a few gospel stories will encounter what you could call the “historical Peter.” He is headstrong, doubtful, confused, impulsive: human. The reader will also discover that Jesus loves Peter and loves him with abandon. Jesus is constantly offering him forgiveness, even for his craven behavior at the crucifixion, and is consistently placing his trust in him. (Scripture scholars note that when Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?” three times by the seashore, it is meant to counterbalance Peter’s triple denial of Jesus before the crucifixion.)

Peter is among the greatest of the saints precisely because of his humanity, his shortcomings, his doubt and, moreover, his deeply felt understanding of all these things. Only someone like Peter, who understood his own sinfulness and the redeeming love of Christ, would be able to lead the infant church and lead others to Jesus.

Only someone as weak as Peter would be able to do what he did.

 from My Life with the Saints

James Martin, SJ 

James Martin, SJ, is associate editor of America magazine and a prolific author, writer, and editor.

See More

Books by James Martin, SJ

A Jesuit Off-Broadway

Behind the Scenes with Faith, Doubt, Forgiveness, and More

An Off-Broadway cast has plenty of questions about life and faith - and Fr. James Martin, author of My Life with the Saints, is just the right person to offer some answers in A Jesuit Off-Broadway.

Shop Now

Mi vida con los santos

En Mi vida con los Santos James Martin, SJ nos presenta una conmovedora experiencia respect a su relación con los Santos—desde María, la madre de Jesús, hasta San Francisco o la Madre Teresa—y la manera personal en la que ha side dirigido por los heroes de la Iglesia a lo largo de toda su vida.

Shop Now

Lourdes Diary

Seven Days at the Grotto of Massabieille

Fr. Martin's illuminating and humorous account of seven busy and gratifying days at Lourdes is a vivid description of a place with a special, mysterious spiritual presence.

Shop Now

Who Cares About the Saints?

Let James Martin, SJ author of the bestselling book My Life with the Saints introduce you to his favorite Catholic saints in this exciting new saints DVD.

Shop Now

My Life with the Saints (10th Anniversary Edition)

This best-selling memoir of spiritual self-discovery is an homage to the Catholic saints who have accompanied Fr. Martin throughout his life. Click here to download the discussion guide for My Life with the Saints.

Shop Now

A Jesuit Off-Broadway

Center Stage with Jesus, Judas, and Life’s Big Questions

Theater and theology share the stage in Fr. James Martin’s A Jesuit Off-Broadway, the true story about the making of a celebrated play.

Shop Now

Awake My Soul

Contemporary Catholics on Traditional Devotions

A contemporary look at traditional devotions from well-known Catholic writers.

Shop Now

Praying with America

100 Years of Encountering God in Prayer with America Magazine

Praying with America presents and celebrates the diversity of prayer over the past century and offers readers the wisdom and inspiration of leading Catholic thinkers on the practice of prayer.

Shop Now