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Quo vadis?

April 21, 2008

by Fr. Michael J. Miller, Delano Catholic Community

Where are you going?

This great question (Quo vadis? in Latin) is one that we should ask ourselves every day – not just on the mundane and practical level, but on the level of our very existence.

Where are we going in our lives, what is our purpose and meaning? It is a question asked of Jesus at the Last Supper by Peter. His answer is the same as the one He gave earlier to the Jews, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, though you will follow later.” (Jn 13:36).

Thomas then adds to the question, “Master, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6).

There is the answer to our questions. Where are we supposed to be going in our life? To the Father. How do we get there? By following Christ.

“The first message of the Risen Lord, communicated to those who were His by means of the angels and the women is: Come, follow me; I am going before you. Resurrection-faith is a stepping forward along the way. It can be nothing else than a following in the steps of Christ…

“Discipleship means that now we can go where Peter and the Jews initially could not go. But now that He has gone before us, we can go there too.

“Discipleship means accepting the entire path, going forward into those things that are above, the hidden things that are the real ones: truth, love, our being children of God.” (Benedict XVI, Seek that which is Above, 38-39).

Jesus also has another message that goes with the Resurrection invitation to follow Him: “Do not be afraid” (Matt 28:10). It is quite natural for us to be afraid, but “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23).

We fear the pain and the suffering that the cross brings, and without the Resurrection, that is all it would be – something to be avoided at all costs. But the Resurrection gives us the effective power to say, with St. Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” (Rom 8:18).

In 1602, this was beautifully captured in a famous painting by Annibale Carracci called “Domine, quo vadis?” It draws on the legend of Peter meeting Christ, about 30 years after the Resurrection, on the Appian Way.

He was persuaded to save himself and leave Rome during the bloody persecution of Nero. Peter asks Him, “Lord, where are you going?” And His response is, “To Rome, to be crucified anew.” Wearing the crown of thorns, the wound in His side visible, but healed, with the cross on one shoulder, He is pointing in the opposite direction that Peter is going.

What is most striking about the painting is the utter lack of fear that is depicted in Christ. His Resurrection already defeated the worst that sin and death could throw at Him. “We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.” (Rom 6:9).

Peter went back and indeed, followed where he could not follow before. And so can we.

What answer do we give to the question, “Where are you going?” Is it along one of the many dead-end paths purposed by the father of lies, with his empty promises of happiness? Or is it to our Father in heaven, Who loved us so that He sent His only Son, Who is Truth and Life?

Then, let us not be afraid to follow the way to Him.