When Peter bumped into Christ
Rev. José Mario O. Mandía
Outside Rome, along the Via Appia (Appian Way), one of the most ancient of roads, there is a church called the Quo Vadis. The chapel was built in the 17th century by Cardinal Barberini in memory of a story that goes back to the times of Jesus. The story says that St Peter, fleeing from the persecution in Rome by the Appian Way, was surprised to come upon his Master. So he asked Jesus “Domine, quo vadis?” (Lord, where are you going?). And the Lord replied, “Venio iterum crufigi” (I am coming to be crucified again).
Wednesday next week is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lent is one of those “strong” seasons of the liturgical year where we come face to face with the suffering Lord. But perhaps, this time, it is he who asks you and me, “Quo vadis?” Friend, where are you going? What are you looking for? What are you running away from? And what are you running after?
We know what Saint Peter was running away from – persecution and the Cross. He was also running away from his responsibility, he was running away from his job! Lent reminds us of the Cross. But often, we imagine this Cross as something extra, like fasting, and abstaining from meat. Some people think it means self-flagellation. For many, it is definitely not something to be done everyday, something different from our ordinary life. Many Christians think that Lent requires them to leave their daily occupations. At certain times, we must fast and abstain, yet Jesus said that if anyone wishes to follow him, he should “carry his cross daily” (Luke 9:23). All four words in this phrase are important, including “HIS” and “DAILY”.
EACH ONE WITH HIS OWN CROSS. That Jesus should require each one to “carry his cross” means that there is a specific God-given cross for each one. Every cross is custom-made, crosses are not mass-produced in an assembly line. No two crosses are the same, in the same way that no two persons are exactly alike. Every person is unique, and each person has a mission which no one else can do for him. There is no sense in comparing my cross with yours, especially when your cross seems to be lighter, more attractive, more bearable. And because God is infinite wisdom, I am assured that the Cross he has fashioned for me is the most appropriate one, the one that can do me the most good.
DAILY CROSS. That Jesus should specify the daily cross shows that Christian mortification does not take us away from our daily life. Our daily cross can be found in our daily duties – maybe in the kind of work we have to do, or the people we work with, or the place where we work, or the time of work. Not surprisingly, just a few weeks back, Pope Francis said that motherhood is a kind of martyrdom. Indeed, any kind of job is a kind of martyrdom, because every job brings a cross with it. Usually it is this kind of cross that we flee from – the monotonous and dull and boring cross of everyday. We try to escape from them because there seems to be nothing earthshaking about them and no one gives us a pat on the back for doing them. Saint Josemaría observed: “The world admires only spectacular sacrifice, because it does not realize the value of sacrifice that is hidden and silent.” (The Way 185) How do I know if I am fleeing from my daily cross? How much time do I spend on Facebook? (Touché!)
We learn to appreciate the value of hidden and silent sacrifice when we think about the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph. There was nothing spectacular about life in Nazareth. Yet the Church reveres Mary as Queen of Saints, and Saint Joseph’s name always comes after her at Mass. What great thing did they do? The little task of each little moment, done well, with sacrifice and with joy.
Let me recommend two little sacrifices, two little mortifications, that we can all do many times both during Lent and outside of it.
The first one is what Saint Josemaría called the “heroic minute”. If you think you are tough, see if you can take the challenge. Here is how he described it: “The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and… up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body.” (The Way 206) In fact, the day is filled with hundreds of heroic minutes that challenge us to start doing what we need to do without putting them off for later. Wanna be a hero? Get up on time everyday.
The second one has to do with charity. Saint Josemaría wrote: “Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’” (The Way 174) I should not complain about any one, but should always think: this person is giving me a chance to be holy. God is making use of him or her to teach me patience, or generosity, or optimism, or self-forgetfulness …. Blessed be God!
Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the Cross of Jesus. He resisted at first, but he eventually realized that he was privileged. Everyday, we are “forced” to carry some cross. May we not fail to see Jesus behind it. May we not run away. May we welcome it, and embrace it, and tell the Lord, “Thank you for giving me the chance. Thank you for the honor!”