Weigel Chapter 2

Below are Kerry's reflections on the second chapter of George Weigel's book Letters To a Young Catholic:

- Focus of chapter is on tangibility of Catholic faith (it is based on fact, not myth), and Peter as the model believer: he was seized by the faith, emptied himself into it, but was still human as seen in his many failures and errors.
- Old St. Peter’s was built by Constantine in the fourth century over the believed burial place of Peter; this basilica was one of the central points of early Christianity.
- New St. Peter’s (which we see today) was built directly on top of the crumbling Old St. Peter’s starting in the late 1400s; construction on it lasted 120 years and passed through the hands of 10 architects.
- Pope Pius XI died in 1939; before being elected Pope in 1922, he had served as archbishop of Milan and thus the Milanese had a marble sarcophagus built for him and sent to Rome to place in St. Peter’s upon his death.
- The installation of the tomb and sarcophagus in the grottoes under the basilica became a catalyst for Pope Pius XII to renovate the grottoes and lower its floor.
- The digging became an archeological excavation site during the 1940s when tombs and eventually a necropolis (literally, city of the dead) were discovered; they found the Tropaion (in Greek, trophy or victory monument) which looked like an altar. The floor of the altar’s structure was the original floor of the Old St. Peter’s.
- Behind the Tropaion, there was a red wall; the supporting wall of that red one had graffiti all over it, including something resembling “Peter was [here]”, and contained a hidden storage area.
- The necropolis was probably originally a pagan burial site, later used by Christians and organized around St. Peter’s remains; these excavations are now known as the scavi.

- The slums in front of the basilica were replaced with the large via della Conciliazione in the holy year 1950; it symbolized the creation of the Vatican City and the peace between Church and Italian State.
- In the square in front of St. Peter’s stands an obelisk brought over from North Africa by Caligula; it stood as one of the centerpieces of Nero’s circus (used to entertain the public with executions, races, exotic animals…).
- To the left of the square is the Piazza dei Protomartiri Romani, or square of the first Roman martyrs, those of Nero’s infernal circus.
- Since Peter died as a martyr during Nero’s reign, he probably died in the circus, and his last sight was probably this obelisk.
- The remains behind the Tropaion and this obelisk are the closest one can physically get to the roots of the Church (see quote 1).
- Peter was the rock, but he was also ordinary: Pre-Easter, he was impulsive, he didn’t understand Jesus, he denied him, and he told Jesus that he, Jesus, was wrong.
- Easter is an event that changes everyone, and most of all Peter: he becomes the “first great evangelist” of the Church and shows peers that God’s saving message is for Jews and Gentiles alike. He was the center of Church unity in the beginning; he had become the rock. He finds death in Rome as a martyr.
- The scavi and the obelisk show that Catholicism has solid foundations; it isn’t based on myth, but rather tangible facts (see quote 2).

- Truths of Catholic faith and practice:
-“the truth of faith is something that seizes us, not something of our own discovery”: Peter wasn’t curious about Rome, he went because he was compelled by the truth of Jesus that had grabbed him.
- “faith in Jesus Christ costs not just something, but everything”: Peter paid for the opportunity to give away the truth that had grabbed him with his life.
- Love for Christ is not easy: when Peter is asked three times by the Risen Christ “Do you love me?” he is being warned of the difficulty of this love. This love is not selfish, it does not directly fulfill the giver, but the giver must give away all of himself (see quote 3).
- The Gospels show Peter’s shortcomings; these could not have easily been invented.
- When Peter walks out to Jesus on the water as Jesus appears to the disciples and calls them, he only starts to sink when he looks elsewhere but to Jesus for security. This also applies to us, and shows us that faith is a very radical gift (see quote 4).

- Quo Vadis story: Peter was fleeing Rome and Nero’s persecutions when he met Jesus on the Via Appia (the main road out of Rome). He asked Jesus where he was going (“Quo vadis, Domine?”), and Jesus replied he was going into town to be crucified. Peter immediately turned back and became a martyr.
- Stories about Peter and his failures in the Gospels show that “weakness and failure have been part of the Catholic reality from the beginning.” This weakness is everywhere in the Church, even in the leaders of the Church; we are only human. This means we must all be “constantly purified” (see quote 5).
- “Failure is not the final word”: Love is a transforming power that overcomes failure, though the love itself comes at a great price (see quote 6).

Notable Quotes:

“The scavi are more than excavations; if we take them seriously, the scavi demand that we think through the meaning of an extraordinary story involving some utterly ordinary people. Here it is. Sometime in the third decade of the first century of the first millennium of our era, a man named Simon, whose father was named John, made his modest living as a fisherman in Galilee…This man, Simon, became a personal friend of Jesus of Nazareth. Through that encounter, he became not Simon but Peter, the rock.” –p.25

“The scavi and the obelisk—Peter’s remains and the last thing Peter may have seen in this life—confront us with the historical tangibility, the sheer grittiness, of Catholicism…Catholicism does not rest on a pious myth, a story that floats away from us the more we try to touch it. Here, in the scavi, we’re in touch with the apostolic foundations of the Catholic Church. And those foundations are not in our minds. They exist, quite literally, in reality… Beneath the layers of encrusted tradition and pious storytelling, there is something real, something you can touch, at the bottom of the bottom line of Catholic faith.” –p.26-27

“Peter…is being told, gently but firmly, that his love for Christ is not going to be an easy thing. His love is not going to be a matter of ‘fulfilling’ himself. His love must be a pouring out of himself, and in that self-emptying he will find his fulfillment—if not in the terms that the world usually understands as ‘fulfillment.’ In abandoning any sense of his autonomy…Peter will find his true freedom. In giving himself away, he will find himself. Freely you have received, freely you must give—if the gift is to continue to live in you.” –p.28-29

“When we keep our gaze fixed on Christ, we, too, can do what seems impossible. We can accept the gift of faith, with humility and gratitude. We can live our lives as the gift for others that our lives are to us. We can discover the depths of ourselves in the emptying of ourselves. In the Catholic view of things, ‘walking on water’ is an entirely sensible thing to do. It’s staying in the boat hanging tightly to our own sad little insecurities, that’s rather mad.” –p.30

“Like Peter, all the people of the Church, including the Church’s ordained leadership, must constantly be purified. And purified by what? Like Peter, we must be purified by love, by a more complete and radical emptying of self…Although the early Church insisted on including weakness and failure in the narrative of its first years and decades, the story line of the New Testament…is not, finally, a story of failure, but of purified love transforming the world. To be sure, that transformation comes with a price…” –p.32

“…failure is not the final word. Emptiness and oblivion are not our destiny. Love is the final word. And love is the most living thing of all because love is of God. To know that, and to stake your life on it, is to have been seized by the truth of God in Christ—amid and through, not around, the gritty reality of the world.” –p.32

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