Thursday, August 13, 2009

Saint Peter's Basilica - Quo Vadis

Saint Peter's Basilica at dusk. It is enormous, impressive, and beautiful in many ways.

A legend says that Peter was fleeing Rome ahead of persecution under the emperor Nero. While walking south on Via Appia (The Appian Way), he encountered Jesus walking towards Rome. When he asked Jesus, "Quo Vadis (Where are you going?)" Jesus answered that He was going to Rome to be crucified a second time. Peter felt Jesus was telling him to have the courage to face up to persecution, rather than to run away. He then returned to Rome and was eventually crucified upside down, because he did not consider himself worthy to die exactly like Jesus.

Quo Vadis is also the name of a historical novel set in Nero's Rome, by the Polish writer Henry Sienkiewicz. The novel was part of the reason he was given the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905. I remember reading a Chinese translation of it from the library of our secondary school. I do not remember much of the story, but the name stuck in my mind.

To me, something is not quite right when a Christian leader lives a life of luxury, exerts enormous power, or enjoys the adulation of others. Jesus himself never seek luxury, worldly power, or adulation. He did say that whoever wishes to be a leader should be a servant of others. It seems to me therefore it is better to seek to truly serve, rather than to exert power. I do admire the courage of the original Peter in the Bible, and the Peter in the legend, however.


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