Tag Archives: Saint Peter

The faith of Saint Peter and Blessed Franz

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew 14:22-33, Peter, at the call of Jesus, begins to walk on water. He was daring enough to risk this, but his faith faltered. Jesus grabbed him by the hand and then asked him, “Why did you do doubt, you of little faith?”

Sometimes I think we are a little too hard on Peter. The other apostles cowered in the boat, but he had  the audacity to ask Jesus to call him out of the boat to walk on the water. Yet, when he lost sight of Jesus, he was afraid and started to drown.

On August 9, 1943, Franz Jägerstätter, Austrian peasant, husband, father of three girls, was beheaded for his refusal to take the military oath to serve in the Nazi army.

His story has moved me since I first read it in the 1960s in Gordon Zahn’s In Solitary Witness.

What is remarkable is that, despite the opposition to his stand of his neighbors and even of religious authorities, he persevered. He saw evil and refused to cooperate. Sustained by his faith in God and the love of his wife, Franziska, he persevered, even when the waves of the evil around him threatened him with death. As he wrote to his wife from prison:

“I am convinced that it is still best that I speak the truth, even if it costs me my life.  For you will not find it written in any of the commandments of God or of the Church that a man is obliged under pain of sin to take an oath committing him to obey whatever might be commanded of him by his secular ruler.”

He persevered in his faith, despite death. The faith of the saints is not something that flounders when beset by difficulties. Though there may be doubts, these doubts strengthen the commitment to have confidence in God. As Franz wrote,

“If the road signs were stuck ever so loosely in the earth that every wind could break them off or blow them about, would anyone who did not know the road be able to find his way? And how much worse is it if those to whom one turns for information refuse to give him an answer or, at most, give him the wrong direction just to be rid of him as quickly as possible?”


Acts 12: 1-11 

Prison walls cannot contain the liberating power of the Gospel. Some of the most profound spiritual writings have been composed in prison, including some of Saint Paul’s letters, the poems of St. John of the Cross. The prisons of Nazi Germany were seedbeds of profound reflections on faith by the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Jesuit Alfred Delp, and Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian peasant objector to Hitler’s Wars.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we find several accounts of the miraculous release from prison of the followers of Jesus.

One of the most famous is today’s Gospel where an angel frees Peter from his chains and leads him out between sleeping guards. In the Vatican there is a fresco by Rafael depicting this event. In the center we see the angel touching Peter, just as Luke tells us in the text.

Peter released from prison

But the artist took some artistic freedom in the upper right panel, depicting the angel leading Peter out of prison. The angel told Peter to put on his sandals and his cloak; but Peter is walking barefoot, as is the angel.

Peter released from prison

In the text Peter follows the angel out, but in the painting the angel is leading Peter by the hand.

Peter released from prison

When I looked at my photo of this fresco this morning, I was stuck by that simple gesture of the angel.

God is leading Peter by the hand out of prison. God, with the intimacy revealed in the touch of the angel, can lead us out of prison. Sometimes this may happen literally, as in the other accounts in the Acts of the Apostles and, perhaps, in the escape from prison by Saint John of the Cross.

But often God is offering a hand to lead us out of the prisons of our lives, out of the sins that keep us confined, out of the cowardice that keeps us paralyzed, out of the limitations that we place on the power of God’s grace in our lives.

God can free us from all that keeps us imprisoned, as he freed Peter.

But God frees us not for ourselves. Peter returns to the community to announce to them the Good News of his release. So too, we are freed to share the Good News of freedom to a world enslaved by greed, violence, power, domination.

Get ready for the jailbreak and grasp the angel’s hand, God is leading us.