Peter's a remarkable person in the New Testament. Many people counted themselves as admirers of Jesus for shorter or longer periods during his earthly ministry. Some, both women and men, were serious disciples who accompanied Jesus since the Galilee days. A mere dozen were special members of his inner circle, known as the Twelve. Among the Twelve, three (Peter, James, and John) became Jesus' most trusted friends: present at the Transfiguration, and also invited to pray with him in Gethsemane just before his arrest. Yet even among these favored three, Peter makes a singular impression.
Peter is mentioned nearly 175 times in the New Testament, almost twice as often as John and three times as often as James. Peter is a fisherman personally invited by Jesus to fish for people. In John's gospel, he's called a shepherd of Christ's sheep. In Matthew's narrative, Jesus declares Peter the rock upon which his church will be built. This is because Peter receives the special revelation that Jesus is the Son of the living God.
In Acts, Peter has a vision that reveals to him that Gentiles as well as Jews will be welcomed into the church. In the letters attributed to him, Peter is perceived as an elder among elders, as well as one capable of amending errant teachings. Yet Peter's also represented in Acts as a team player, working in full partnership with John and willing to accept the discernment of James when in Jerusalem. Peter's not just the boss left in charge after Jesus returns to his Father. After an early career of impulsive speech and rash behavior, Peter's been humbled, becoming a leader who appreciates that the wisest way to wield authority is to seek good counsel and faithful collaborators all along the path.
To find the job description of a modern pope, look no further than Peter's example. The fisherman who casts the broadest possible net, the shepherd intimately companioning the sheep, the rock upon which the structure of church depends: these are the fundamental tasks of the papacy. A pope must also be a person of deep prayer open to revelation and new insights—even spectacular ones that shake up social expectations. A pope must gather wise and collaborative counselors, yet be ready to make the final call when necessary. All of this makes a Petrine foundation an essential component of Catholic authority.
Scripture: Matthew 16:16-18; Luke 5:10; John 21:1-17; Acts 1:9-16; 3:1-11; 4:1-22; 8:14; 1 Peter 5:1; 2 Peter 3:15-16
Books: Four Times Peter: Portrayals of Peter in the Four Gospels and at Philippi, by Richard J. Cassidy (Liturgical Press, 2015)
Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church: Toward a Patient and Fraternal Dialogue, by James F. Puglisi, ed. (Liturgical Press, 1999)