Blessed Peter Faber
Peter who? The question is natural. Francis Xavier is known to all; Ignatius Loyola to the discerning few; but who on earth is Peter Faber?
Born in 1506, Peter Faber was from the region of Savoy in the south of France. He was in Paris in 1530, studying for his master’s in theology and planning to become a priest when he met Ignatius Loyola, and fell under his spell. Ignatius led him to make the Spiritual Exercises and changed his life forever.
Earlier, it seemed that young Peter was affected by depression and given to occasional bouts of gluttony. All this changed after meeting Ignatius. Peter then introduced his close friend Francis Xavier to Ignatius, and the rest, as they say, is history. Much, much later, Peter would meet yet another Peter, his namesake, a young man from Nijmegen, Holland, and transform him into a zealous Jesuit too. This was Peter Canisius, the future apostle of Germany.
So Peter was one who led others to Christ; or as we would say today, who ‘actualised the potential’ of his friends, and helped them fulfil themselves. And all the while he himself remained unassuming, taken for granted, in the background.
Perhaps Peter’s finest moment came when, as a newly ordained priest, he presided over Mass at the Montmartre chapel on the feast of the Assumption, 15 August 1534. That was where Ignatius and his six first companions pledged themselves to perpetual chastity and to stay together to work in the Holy Land.
Faber possessed the gift of friendship to a remarkable degree. Everyone recalled his affability, his unassuming manner and his gentleness which endeared him to all, even Protestants. He was famous not for his preaching, but for his engaging conversations and his guidance of souls. These were the Reformation years in Europe, and neither Catholic nor Lutheran had kind things to say to each other. Not so Peter.
He was the only Catholic who regularly prayed for his Protestant antagonists, who longed to meet Melanchthon and Luther himself, in order to win them over. It was Peter who crisscrossed Europe on foot, guiding bishops, priests, nobles and common people alike in the Spiritual Exercises, giving them a completely new perspective on the faith. No one gave the Exercises better than Peter, Ignatius used to say.
Peter was the first of Ignatius’s companions. He was also the first to pass away, exhausted by his journeys. This was in Rome, on August 2, 1546, and he was only 40.