There is a famous story in Christian tradition that tells of Saint Peter fleeing the persecutions in Rome during the first century to avoid his immanent death. Along the road, he encounters Jesus who is walking the other way, toward the carnage. Peter asks Jesus: “Quo Vadis?” which translates from Latin “Where are you going?” Jesus replies that He is going to Rome to be crucified again. This response gives Peter courage to remember his commitment, return to his mission, renew his battle against grave obstacles, and reunite with the Lord knowing that he will suffer because of it. In Holy Week, as we reflect upon the final walk of Jesus’ earthly life and contemplate our own journey and cross, we would each do well to ask ourselves, “Quo Vadis?”
I wonder what we, the Catholic Church, are walking away from today and what it is that we’re walking towards. Some staunch Catholics believe that a vast majority of members are walking away from sacred rituals passed down over 2,000 years, walking away from structure and discipline that keeps us close to God’s laws and teachings, and, therefore, walking away from God. Others believe that the institutional church has become so out-of-touch with God’s people that it is walking in the wrong direction, that it is concerned with many laws but often bypasses the law of love that Jesus presented us, that it is more concerned with corporate compliance than with hearts that yearn for Christ’s mercy and compassion. If it is true that the church, represented by the first pope in this legend, has taken a path opposite Jesus’ will, it must be our fervent prayer that we encounter Christ along the way so He can inspire us to turn around and face the fear and errant decision-making that causes us to flee.
“Quo Vadis?” is an important question for each of us to ask as we, individually, reflect upon the passion of Jesus, and an important question for us to ask as a community of believers. Most of us are part of a parish. The majority of parishioners and churchgoers are part of the 7% or so that will always remain faithful to the institutional church, according to Bishop Robert Barron’s analysis, while the minority are part of the 82% that are disenfranchised (11% of Catholics are so far gone, he says, they will never return). The 82% love the church as much as the 7% but believe that the church is walking away from Christ’s core message in favor of institutional protection and self-preservation. For some Catholics, it is confusing to know which direction to travel.
After the pandemic lifts, all Catholics will be invited back to church, but many may not return. I suspect this has to do with the comfort we have felt in not being obligated to attend Mass in person and also with church leaders not being courageous enough in facing challenges in our society with Christ-like responses. Though people of all age groups find the church—its worship and teachings—to be markedly irrelevant, millennials and the Gen Z cohort are impacted most. They don’t, for the most part, understand or value the church’s differentiation between civil marriage and the sacrament of holy matrimony—why one union can be blessed by the church and the other cannot. They don’t care for the church’s explanation that homosexuals are created in the image and likeness of God in an intrinsically disordered fashion and therefore deserve the dignity afforded every human person yet also condemnation for expression of their sexuality. They don’t appreciate the church’s promotion of orthodoxy when Jesus was among the most unorthodox church leaders in history. They don’t like it when ecclesial leaders focus on one life-issue while seemingly ignoring others. Their list is long, but it essentially boils down to not understanding why the church that has been errant in many past instances—from Copernicus to Galileo to Inquisitions to Crusades to slavery to capital punishment to the pedophile crisis—can’t simply say, “We might also be wrong now, but we’ll lead by following Christ’s example the best that we can.”
Their list is also held by the 82%, and it should be held by all. We should peruse it when we ask: “Quo Vadis?” Doing so will help us, as a church, to discover whether we are going in the direction Christ has mapped out for us. And if we’re heading in the wrong direction, let us be given the grace to recognize Jesus along the road; He can inspire us to turn around and meet the challenges we ought to face.
7 thoughts on “Quo Vadis”
I do not know that this offers any answers but it does speak how and why many are struggling.
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Fr Don, If you have time watch Sunday Morning on CBS today. The first story is on LGBTQ priest in the Catholic Church. Nan
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Thanks for having the courage to speak the truth. You are a blessing to all of us!!
Love this! It’s relevant & thought provoking. I think your observation about the Catholics questioning the church’s view on traditional marriage REALLY hits home with me bec it’s one of the challenges that my Catholic friends discuss with me most frequently. My younger friends esp struggle with understanding how it’s possible that the same all-loving, compassionate & understanding Christ who we read about in the Bible would ever condemn, judge, or ostrasize people for who they love or for who they choose to share their life with?? We talk a lot about why the “rules” and laws of our faith don’t seem to be in line with the way Jesus acted & lived when he was on earth. I don’t have any satisfactory answers or explanations for this topic because it confuses me as well! Thankfully, our Pope gives us hope with his loving example of acceptance & his willingness to forgive & see the best in people…. but it’s hard to understand why that example doesn’t necessarily seem to translate into the rules/laws/beliefs of the Catholic church?? In all honesty, this paradox has created such animosity & confusion in my discussions with people of ALL ages that I make every attempt to avoid the topic altogether! One of the best things about being a Catholic, in my humble opinion, is the fact that God offers us the opportunity to admit our mistakes , apologize for them & experience his forgiveness; I can only hope that the at some point, those who have the power to change/amend the Catholic Church laws will take advantage of this opportunity! They could not only change/amend the laws, but also apologize to those who have been isolated, hurt and damaged by them. I can’t wait to talk to my dad about this! So great to see you on Friday. Thank you for talking about the issues that MATTER, the issues that are glaringly obvious to everyone but that are uncomfortable to discuss. YOUR WRITINGS MATTER to me and to so many others. You give me so much hope! love, Amy
Amy Hodes email@example.com
Thank You Fr. Farnan. Good words used well.
Blessings and peace to you this Easter!
Amazing perspective as always.
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Fr. Don……This was a great one. And I would like to share with you some of the thoughts I have growing up Baptist in a small Missouri town. When I was growing up the thing that I noticed was most of the men did not attend church on Sunday. And certainly most of the men did not participate in missions the church would be involved in. Isn’t it ironic that as a Baptist and now Catholic, one of the things I admire is the teaching and ritual of the participation of the entire family attending weekly Mass?
So as usual there are two sides to every story. I praise and admire your message….and Fr Warris…..of the more open and accepting and loving approach the church should grasp and at the same time I feel that the Catholic Church has done a much better job having the entire family attend weekly Mass than our Baptist Brothers because of some of the 2,000 year old strict teaching of the Catholic Church.
I am sure it seems many times like a difficult balancing act…..Please keep the “Charged With Saint Charles” loving and inspiring messages coming. And especially in our world now it is my belief that we need most of all a belief in a bible based church and love. It seems so corny to say but love really will cure it all.
Love you Fr. Don Tom
On Sun, Mar 28, 2021 at 6:22 AM CHARGED WITH SAINT CHARLES wrote:
> Father Don Farnan posted: ” There is a famous story in Christian tradition > that tells of Saint Peter fleeing the persecutions in Rome during the first > century to avoid his immanent death. Along the road, he encounters Jesus > who is walking the other way, toward the carnage.&nb” >