A Catholic reads the Bible, Week 45: For (Saint) Pete's sake

This week, Laura Bernardini solves a lifelong mystery about St. Peter.

This is Week 45 of a yearlong series: A Catholic Reads the Bible. Read Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3. Laura Bernardini is director of coverage in CNN's Washington Bureau. The views expressed in this column belong to Bernardini.

(CNN)When I started this project, many people thought it would lead me to question my faith. Friends e-mailed me after the first few posts, waiting for me to start writing about the utter improbability of what I was reading. The miraculous events, the unfathomably long lifespans.

Well, that hasn't happened in 45 posts.
Instead, what happened is that the stories of the Bible have made me question my intellectual curiosity. I mean, for nearly 42 years I've wondered about the mysteries of my religion, but I hadn't fully explored them.
Laura Bernardini
You would have thought that during 11 years of Catholic school I would have answered those questions.
    Um, no.
    But, reading the Bible has helped me so much.
    For example, one of my nagging questions was about the origins of the phrase "under my roof," which Catholics now say during Mass.
    And there is another question that has always bothered me, but I never sought out the answer. How is it that Peter denied Jesus three times and yet somehow he became the leader of the faith? I mean one of my favorite places on Earth -- St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in Rome -- is named for him.
    Peter was a riddle.
    I first visited St. Peter's as a 15-year-old marveling at the impressive structure. One of the most amazing assignments of my career was helping cover Pope John Paul II's funeral there in 2005.
    And when I started reading Matthew's gospel, I wondered how Peter, after his denial of Jesus, restored his good status. It also leads me to ask myself whether I would have had the strength to tell the truth if I had been Peter. And because you read the variations of the story four times in the gospels, you have a lot of time to think about it.
    In the last chapter of John, Jesus asks John if he loves him three times -- "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" -- shortening the name from Simon Peter to just Simon. (The English major in me came through and saw the parallel structure of two sets of three questions. In the first, Peter says "no," three times. In the second, he says "yes," three times.)
    When Simon Peter answered yes to Jesus, he was instructed to "Feed my lambs," "Tend my sheep," and "Feed my sheep."
    The footnotes in my Bible mention that the Catholic Church cited these verses when determining that Jesus, after his resurrection, had given Peter the role of supreme shepherd and ruler over the church. That is, he made Peter the first pope.
    But, why did it take me 1,168 pages -- and 42 years -- to find this out about Peter? I need to really "practice" my faith more, and next time I have a question, I am going to seek out a priest to ask. Lucky them.