Learning from the Past
There is a story in the memory of the Church which I believe can help us in our understanding of the crisis facing the Church today and the challenges facing us all at this moment. The story tells of how after the great fire of Rome in 64 AD, once Nero had begun persecuting the Christians, blaming them for the fire and the great loss of life, the Church in Rome advised St. Peter to leave the city and save himself.
As Peter was fleeing the city and making for the port of Ostia, he met the Lord Jesus. Jesus was going towards Rome, the opposite direction to Peter. When Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” or in Latin “Domine, Quo Vadis”, Jesus replied to Peter, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again”. The story recounts that at that very moment Peter turned on his heel and returned to Rome and as we know from the tradition of the Church he returned to face his own martyrdom and was crucified in the Roman circus at the Vatican and buried in the adjoining cemetery.
Change in Perspective
In a book I recently read, the same story was told but with a very significant change. The author had Jesus asking Peter, “Where are you going?” This changes the whole story, for now it is Peter who is deciding what to do. He is no longer following Jesus. The initiative is passed to Peter with Jesus trying to catch up with him.
We must all follow Christ
The author then asks the same question of our present-day Peter, Pope Benedict, “Where is he taking the Church?” It is as if it up to the Pope to decide how the Church can change and develop. The point of the story is that it is not the Pope who decides, but the whole Church must follow Christ. We are the ones to follow the Lord, even when He is asking a very great deal of us, even to suffer in our following of Him. Jesus founded the Church and continues, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to guide it authoritatively through the ministry of the pope and bishops, as we read in Vatican II.
A Deep Trust in Jesus
This is the challenge before our eyes, to look at Christ, to know Him more deeply and to follow where He is leading. It is a call to a deep trust in Jesus and not in our own plans for us or for the Church. So often in the controversies which seem to be enveloping our Church in Ireland at this time, I hear a lot of arguments about peoples’ hurt egos, positions of influence and having their rights recognised, but I hear very little about Christ. I hear a lot of words but not a lot of faith.
Listen to the Word and Will of the Lord
When I listen to the fights on the radio or TV, I recall the words of Pope Benedict XVI on the day of his public Mass in St. Peter’s Square. He said, “My real programme of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history”.
Follow Where He Leads
We must keep our focus on the Lord, as did St. Peter on the road to Ostia. The prayer inscribed at the foot of the Image of Divine Mercy, “Jesus I Trust in You”, the great prayer of the devotion, is the living out today of what happened to Peter. We meet Jesus in the midst of our own struggles and fears and we trust Him and follow where He leads, trusting that His mercy will see us safely through whatever is going on in our lives.
Do This For Me
So often in our prayers we can spend the time telling Jesus what He needs to do for us. We want Jesus to do our bidding rather than leaving all things in His hands. This is not the correct attitude of prayer for a Christian. This does not mean that we don’t tell Him what is on our minds; God loves us and wishes us to open our hearts and fears to Him, but to do so in a trusting way not in a way that wishes to force His hand.
Open our Hearts to Him
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that God has willed in His providence that certain things will happen in response to our prayers, so it is very important that we make our requests to God, but our manner of approaching the Lord should be one of loving trust. We open our hearts to Him, knowing that He is all merciful and we trust that He will do what is best. Peter turned on his heel and returned to Rome, a sign of his loving trust in his living Saviour.
The Year of Faith
We are now celebrating a Year of Faith, a year when we are asked to put Jesus at the centre of our lives and to follow Him in trust. When the Pope asked us to read the catechism this year and to come to know our faith, he was not simply asking that we know the contents of the creed but that we come to know God, in the sacred humanity of Jesus, True God and True man.
The Same Faith as Peter
Our religion must never become an ideology, a stick to beat people with. The Church can never become a cult of the perfect, a collection of friends and allies; it is the community of those whose hearts Christ has conquered with His love. So this year let us live our faith, trusting in Jesus with the same faith that Peter showed on the road to Ostia. Let us be willing to follow Christ where He leads us and not to demand that He follow where we wander in pursuit of our own ideas and plans. During this year of faith let us learn to pray all the more deeply “Jesus I trust in you”.