You may be familiar with the legend about St. Peter fleeing Rome where he met the Risen Lord on the road. When Peter asked, “Quo vadis?” (“Where are you going?”), Christ answered, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.”
In great shame, Peter, the all-too-human apostle, promptly returned to plant the seed of the Gospel in Rome, where he paid the ultimate price with his life. I was reminded of this touching story while on a visit to Rome during Lent. Although a business trip, it actually turned out to be an unexpected spiritual pilgrimage.
During the third week of Lent, I had to take part in a meeting sponsored by the Pontifical Council on the Family. The meeting brought together sociologists and church-people (like me) from different countries. Our topic was “strengthening marriage” – just in case you don’t know, in most developed nations, couples are choosing to cohabit rather than to marry. This is a strange phenomenon since there is ample evidence on the benefits of marriage and the destructive nature of cohabitation (for a summary of some research, click here).
In any case, during the long intense meeting on a topic such as marriage which has both social and private implications, it’s only natural to compare one’s life with the data – which is exactly what I found myself doing.
As we waded through the data proving the many benefits of marriage to a person’s physical, mental, educational and economic well being, I, of course, couldn’t help but wonder as a single woman: How was the single life affecting me? Was my health compromised in any way? Was I more prone to depression or anxiety? Certainly my economic well-being was not so great, but that is complicated by the fact that I choose to work for the Church!
Above all (and this is what I did not expect) I found myself wondering about how greatly I love. After all, marriage is the ultimate “school of love” where, as one of my married friends likes to say, the “non-relenting demand to be selfless” is ever present. Since I’m not only single but live about 200 miles away from my large extended family, I am concerned that living alone could foster selfishness, or worse – cause me to be caught in a kind of limbo when it comes to loving well.
This is where “Quo vadis?” comes in.
In the legend of “Quo vadis?” Jesus was not trying to put a guilt trip on Peter. He was not saying that you have to suffer if you want to follow me. But in His reference to the crucifixion – “I go to Rome to be crucified again” – Jesus indicates the depth of the love Peter should have chosen.
Think about it. This legend points to the fact that Jesus loved the people of Rome so much that He was willing to return to teach, to heal and, if necessary, to be rejected and crucified all over again. This is the kind of love that cracks open the human heart. It’s the kind of love that Peter immediately understood and by understanding, had to go back to the hard-hearted Romans to preach the Gospel no matter the cost. Peter was a great lover!
We may have a desire to want to follow Christ. We may even want to be saints. We may want to be reliable neighbors, faithful friends, loving sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, granddaughters and grandsons. We may long for marriage. All of this can look oh so good on paper but, the question is, “Quo vadis?” Where are you going?
All of these relationships require love. They require that we walk the way of love as Christ taught. As Christ is and calls us to be.
It is not enough to want to love. It’s not good enough to keep it on paper. Love requires action. Love should be spent generously – no holding back on this one!
Many times love is not easy – like when your grumpy neighbor, who always has a home-fix-it request, grabs you at a most inconvenient time to ask yet another favor or when Aunt Josie, who never gives you the complete grocery list, asks for another run to the supermarket!
Now I’m not saying that we who are single have to be everybody’s valet, we need to strive for balance in our lives. I am saying, however, that the many faces of love often look best on paper, where we don’t have to spend a lot of energy, become vulnerable, or give selflessly.
If you are like me, there is also comfort in life’s routine. There is a type of safety in keeping to ourselves. That’s OK to a degree, but (and there is always a but), it would be important to periodically ask ourselves a few questions: How does our personal style of living influence our choices in life? How do personal preferences affect our ability to love? What do our everyday choices say about our discipleship in Christ?
While in that intense Roman meeting about marriage, what occurred to me was that I need to frequently ask myself, “How well do I love?” Regardless of the fact that I’m not married, I don’t need to put my ability to love on a shelf. I can love abundantly exactly where I’m at every moment of my life.
As Christians, all our life’s choices should be colored by loving like Christ. If I play it safe and keep to my routine, the risk is that my heart will stay the same – or worse, it will dry up and die. The funny thing about the human heart is that it gets healthier, bigger, fleshier, more vibrant with love’s color when it is cracked open to love like Christ. And that’s the amazing reality of love: Love given to us in Christ is a never ending source of life. It is the road that takes us to eternal life. Eternal life in Him who has loved us so much that He gave His life for us.
And so I ask you, “Quo vadis?”