Rocco Palmo, in Rome for the beatification, put up this excerpt from Pope John Paul II’s inauguration homily in 1978, which he tells us will be the second reading for the feast-day of Blessed John Paul II in the Office for Readings. In it, the Blessed Pontiff related the ancient legend:
According to an ancient tradition, Peter tried to leave Rome during Nero’s persecution. However, the Lord intervened and came to meet him. Peter spoke to him and asked. “Quo vadis, Domine?” — “Where are you going, Lord?” And the Lord answered him at once: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter went back to Rome and stayed here until his crucifixion.
It reminded me of another “new thing” that I realised while celebrating the Easter Triduum this year. I was at St Aloysius on Maundy Thursday (as you know) and heard the following reading from John 13 (in connection with the footwashing) in Latin:
Dixit Jesus:… Quaeretis me; et sicut dixi Judaeis, quo ego vado, vos non potestis venire: et vobis dico modo…
Dicit ei Simon Petrus: Domine, quo vadis? Respondit Jesus: Quo ego vado non potes me modo sequi: sequeris autem postea.
Dicit ei Petrus: Quare non possum te sequi modo? animam meam pro te ponam.
Respondit ei Jesus: Animam tuam pro me pones? Amen, amen dico tibi: non cantabit gallus, donex ter me neges.
Reading this I became aware that the legend operates as a kind of book end to this story, in much the same way that the threefold questioning of Peter after the resurrection (“Simon, son of John, do you love me?) bookends Peter’s threeforld denial. Peter could not follow Jesus at this point, he was not ready to lay down his life for Jesus at this point; but afterwards, later, finally, he would ask “Lord, where are you going?” and make the final decision to follow Christ to the point of laying down his life for his Lord.
I guess Karol Wojtyla saw this as his destiny too when “Peter came to Rome” from Poland in 1978. This goes a long way to explaining why, even in his final illness, he never once considered abdication from the Petrine Office. He was following his Lord. Tomorrow’s ceremony is the Church’s declaration that he has indeed gone where Christ has gone.