Quo Vadis?: On the Humanity of St. Peter

The humanity of St. Peter has always captivated me—from his declaration at the Transfiguration that building tents is the best idea, to his fearless (albeit short-lived) walk across the sea, to his desperation with Jesus’ repeated interrogation on the beach after the Resurrection. Recently, though, I heard my new favorite story of St. Peter.

A Lesser-Known Story of St. Peter

In the years following Jesus’ Resurrection, the Roman officials became increasingly upset by the rapid growth of the Christian Faith and particularly the influence of St. Peter. So, Peter and some other early Christians decided that it would be best if he left Rome and continued his work elsewhere so that he would escape the threat of persecution.

As Peter was fleeing Rome, feeling confident that he was doing what was best for him and the early Church, he had a life-altering encounter with Christ.

Walking along the Aventine Hill, Peter had a vision of Jesus walking back toward the city. In pure shock and confusion, Peter asked, “Quo vadis, Domine?” which means, “Where are you going, Lord?”

Jesus answered him, “I am going back to Rome to be crucified a second time.”

Peter immediately understood what Jesus meant: he needed to turn around, continue his work in Rome, and offer his life for Christ. Peter did just that, and he was put to death shortly after his return to the city.

Jesus’ Will Above All

Peter’s decision to leave Rome was not motivated solely by fear; he earnestly believed that he needed to proclaim the Gospel elsewhere. However, he didn’t consider the fact that giving his life for Christ was the ultimate witness to the Gospel.

After learning this from his encounter with Christ, his perspective changed and so too did the course of his life. He suffered crucifixion, just as Jesus did, and he willingly endured the pain and torture because he knew that if Christ willed it, then it was worthwhile and holy.

I Am Like Peter

Often, I find myself embodying many of St. Peter’s characteristics, whether that be wanting to pitch a tent and never leave a retreat or taking my eyes off Christ when I feel confident in my own ability only to quickly falter.

The experiences of my own faith life seem to mirror those of St. Peter in many of these human ways. As I consider where God is calling me to go next, I have been reflecting quite a bit on St. Peter, specifically the story of Quo Vadis.

Right now, I am in a state of great unknown and immense transition during my senior year of college. There seem to be countless paths that I could embark on in a few months. And I am entirely unsure which one is right because they are all sincerely good and holy options. Relying on my own judgment and perception, however, will not suffice. With so many possibilities during this season of transition, I know I have to continually turn to God and allow Him to reveal how I can best witness to the Gospel.

Where are YOU Going, Lord?

Like St. Peter, my own human understanding is limited, and I need God to speak to my heart and show me how I am called to serve Him in new ways. This is much easier said than done.

In any decision I am faced with, I am often quick to make my decision based on what I think will best serve me immediately. Sometimes my intentions are good—Peter thought that he was doing what was best for himself and the early Christian community by leaving Rome. But when I make a decision without prayerfully discerning if it aligns with the will of God for me, even a well-meaning choice can lead me from the path God desires me to walk.

If Peter had not submitted to the call to martyrdom, we wouldn’t have his incredible witness to Christ and his commitment to the Gospel, not to mention the beautiful Basilica of St. Peter as the heart of the Church in Rome.

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How Do We Know?

Knowing the will of God for our lives requires patience and listening, two areas that are not my strengths. Talking to God comes much more naturally than quietly listening for His voice and patiently waiting for His movements in my life. I often find myself struggling to persevere in doing so.

Like St. Peter at the Transfiguration, I always want to be doing something rather than quietly and attentively listening to what God has to say to me. It’s often much easier for me to keep busy than to take a step back and discern where God is leading me to witness to Him.

I have learned so much about what it means to follow God’s will in my life by reflecting on the story of St. Peter and Quo Vadis. If I am only attuned to my own ideas and desires, I could be missing the way that God is calling me to serve Him. God’s call isn’t always easy to carry out, but it will bear abundant fruit not only in my own life but also in the lives of those around me.

Ultimately, following God’s will for my life is the surest way to joy, fulfillment, and salvation. So I know that it is in my best interest to humbly follow where He leads, even if I don’t fully understand it or even if it is uncomfortable.

“Quo vadis, Domine?” Where are you going, Lord? Because I want to follow wherever you lead me.

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Katie Eilerman is a St. Louis transplant to Kansas City, where she attends Rockhurst University, a small Jesuit university, to study Secondary Education, English, and Theology. She finds God’s love in iced vanilla lattes, walks around the park, and genuine conversation with friends, and shares it through liturgical music, contagious laughter, and letters sent via snail mail.

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  • Reply
    Bonnie Melielo
    February 13, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    Love this! So me! You spoke to my heart and gave me a lot to ponder. Thank you! and the photo – you in il Campo!! We love Siena and spend a week there every year. A part of our heart remains there.
    “Quo vadis, Domine?” Where are you going, Lord? Because I want to follow wherever you lead me. 😍

  • Reply
    Gayle Schoemehl
    February 13, 2020 at 9:45 pm

    So glad your Mom put me onto this piece. My heart skips a beat every time someone gets the message, especially someone so young. Your writing talent frames Christ’s message perfectly. It’s so amazing how joyful you can be by just keeping your eyes on Him. His plan is always the best!

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