Responding to my last post, The Withered Fig Tree a reader asked me why I did not “stand in silent protest” while nonsense was being preached.  Well, I was standing, in fact I was standing behind a large image of Jesus located at the entrance of the church. There, the volume of the loudspeakers was somewhat attenuated by the huge gesso statue.  There is no point in protesting with gestures at this juncture since that kind of protesting assumes that someone cares. What needs to be done cannot be done by one man. The little flock is –by definition– outnumbered. I will never set foot in that church again and that is enough of a protest in my book. (Matthew 10:14) In happier times, the men among the congregation would have dragged the deacon outside and, after tying him to a post, they would have dutifully set him on fire. But we can’t do that any longer. We are civilized enough to chop to death an unborn child but we can’t do the same thing to those who are butchering souls left and right.

A model to be carefully observed

During the last twenty centuries, many have considered the life of Christ as a prophetic map showing the various ages of the Church until the days of Christ’s return in glory.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21)

Keep that in mind when you consider the following words of Jesus:

But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’ (Luke 23:28-30)

Obviously, Jesus is referring prophetically to the last days. St John uses the same imagery in Revelation 6:16. The green wood Jesus is referring to is the young Church, the dry wood represents the Church of the last days. (Luke 18:8) The suffering Jesus is undergoing on his way to Calvary is comparable to the first fruits of the sufferings of the whole Church through the ages. Christ’s days in the flesh prefigure the pilgrimage of the Church from Pentecost to the end of times and beyond. If the Church shares in his suffering, the Church will also share in the glory of his Resurrection. (Romans 8:17)

Following that line of thinking, it occurred to me that the life of St. Peter should be also a prophetic model of the Papacy. All the great patriarchs in the Old Testament seem to imprint some of their character on their descendants. God reinforces that idea by calling the nations by the name of their founders. To the Amalekites, God refers to as “Amalek” and Israel forever bears the name that God gave to Jacob in Bethel. (Genesis 35: 9-15)

Quo vadis, Petrus?

There is a mysterious echo of Peter as a prophetic model in these words of Jesus, pronounced on the shores of Gennesaret:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’  (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ (John 21:18-19)

If we consider this carefully, we may discover how the life of Jesus —as a prophetic model of the life of the Church— is intertwined with the life of Peter as a prophetic model of the life of the Papacy. The dry wood at the end of time, the Church at the end of her pilgrimage, will experience her own Calvary. At the same time, the last successor of Peter will glorify God with his own martyrdom, just like Peter did in Rome. All of that is suggested by that “follow me.” Those are not mere wishful words, those are the words of the Logos, the same words that commanded creation into existence. Peter shall follow Jesus because it is impossible for him to disobey the Master, even if he tries. Peter is being re-created by the Logos.

Through Sacred Tradition we know that Peter tried to flee from crucifixion in Rome at the hands of Emperor Nero. As he escaped persecution, walking along the Via Apia, it is said that Peter met Jesus who was carrying the Cross while walking in the opposite direction. At that point, Peter asks Jesus: “Quo vadis, Domine?” To what Our Lord replies, “Romam eo iterum crucifigi” (“I am going to Rome to be crucified one more time.”) Thus Peter was miraculously reminded of his marching orders received by the shores of Gennesaret: “Follow me!” He returns to the city to meet his destiny: to be martyred by being crucified in the Circus.

Perplexingly, the question “quo vadis” appears seven times in St. Jerome’s Vulgate translation of the Bible. (Genesis 16:8, 32:17; Judges 19:17; Judith 10:11; John 13:36, 14:5, 16:5; Jonas 1:8 Zechariah 2:2) The depths of our Holy Faith are unfathomable.

One life reflects the other

All Christians are called to be “alter Christus” to reflect Christ in their lives. The Militant Church on earth follows the model of Israel in ancient Egypt, growing in number into a mighty nation in the midst of suffering. The successors of Peter are no exception. Peter must set the example for all. When he is called to die on the Roman cross, he asks to be crucified upside-down. He considered himself unworthy of dying in the same manner as his Master. Thus we end up with a beautiful allegory: The Cross of Christ in Heaven reflected by the cross of Peter on earth.

Many years before, Jesus had called Peter by the shore. Then he had responded: “Depart from me, Lord for I am a sinful man.” The fisherman knew himself well that He was not capable of being a disciple of Jesus, he could not imitate that holiness, that greatness that Jesus projected on to all those who met Him. But Jesus called Peter nevertheless and Peter found himself constantly challenged by Jesus: “Duc in altum!” (Go unto the depths!) and finding that old, failing Peter could do anything if he was in the Master’s company. Peter would not return ashore with empty nets anymore!

In Rome, he was called again to go to the depths, not to the peripheries of human existence but to the deep source of truth that is God Himself. This time Peter’s challenge was the Cross. By being crucified upside down, he found himself perfectly reflecting the image of the Master’s greatest victory. Peter the Fisherman conquered Rome that afternoon atop of the Mons Vaticanus. That was the sacred hill where the ancient Roman augures, the pagan prophets of old, conjured their gods seeking omens before going to war. The vaticinii, Latin for “predictions” or “prophecies” were read upon that very spot by the pagan priests from the entrails of a white doe.

Because Peter had died on that hill, Vatican Hill, the Hill of Prophecies acquired a Christian destiny. From that very hill, the successors of Peter would bless “urbi et orbi” the city of Rome and the world that the Master had come to conquer, paying the divinely set price with his own life. (See Matthew 16:26) Peter was on to his destiny, to climb the heights of history in the same manner that his Master had climbed Calvary.

The rough-hewn Cross

On May 13, 2000, John Paul II, a successor of St. Peter, requested to read a message from the Virgin Mary revealed to  Sister Lucia of Fatima. His request to see the letter containing the message came after he survived an assassination attempt in 1981. Read the letter:

“I write in obedience to you, my God, who command me to do so through his Excellency the Bishop of Leiria and through your Most Holy Mother and mine.”

“After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’ And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White (we had the impression that it was the Holy Father.) Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins. Half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each holding a crystal aspersorium in their hands, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.

I believe Sister Lucia saw the destiny of the last successor of Peter, the Pope of the End Times. Many have tried their hand at interpreting the words of Sister Lucia. I will not attempt that although I can see a clear repeat of the death of St. Peter. It makes sense that the Papacy and the Church would conquer the world in the same manner that Christ conquered the world in Calvary, and Peter conquered Rome at Vatican Hill. In my opinion, the death of the “Bishop dressed in white” and the many priests, religious, and lay people are  prophetic figures of the Papacy and the Church meeting their destiny at the end of times. In their apparent defeat there is a victory, the triumph of Christ at Calvary.

The Final Passover of the Church

The death of Christ at Calvary marked the beginning of a new age for the Israel of God, the Christian Church. The death of Peter at Vatican Hill marked the beginning of the mission of the Roman Catholic Church, a mission that will continue until the end times and beyond. The Passion of the Church and the Papacy will mark the end of that era, the final page in the spiritual conquest of the world. Compare it with the opening of the First Seal in St. John’s Apocalypse:

Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures call out, as with a voice of thunder, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there was a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer. (Revelation 6:1-2)

The Passion of the Church and of the Papacy will mark the end of the evangelizing era, and the beginning of the final battle.

The great catch of fish at daybreak

Sometime before the battle, the Fisherman has to fill his nets with the great catch of fish. The dawn of a new age is catching Peter’s successors failing. They have toiled all night only to return ashore empty-handed:

Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They [Thomas, Nathanael, and the Zebedee brothers] said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (John 21:3)

The Resurrected Christ catches Peter unaware. He appears on the shore as the sun rises behind Him. Just as he had done before when he met Peter for the first time, Jesus instructs them to cast the nets on starboard. As the nets come out filled with fish, John recognizes the Resurrected.

That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. (John 21:7)

Peter hears the voice of the Lord but he was naked. The scene reminds us of another sudden appearance of Our Lord in the Garden of Eden, after the fall of Adam into sin.

He [Adam] said, ‘I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ (Genesis 3:10)

Adam tried to hide his nakedness from God but Peter dives in the water, hurrying to be the first to reach his Master. In their first encounter, Peter was aware of his shortcomings when he said to Jesus: “Depart from me, Lord for I am a sinful man.” Now his awareness is otherwise focused, Peter is acquainted with Jesus’ mercy. His three denials still weigh on his soul, his cowardice and lack of nerve are still filling his heart with shame but the Resurrection has changed all that. Now Peter knows that he can trust Jesus to understand his humanity. He will say later: “‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’” That is when Jesus announces Peter’s destiny with a comparison similar to the one we found in Luke 23:30. The wood is green now for Peter but that will change, he will be old, he will have to face the Cross, the rough-hewn cross where his last successor will have to extend his arms in a final imitation of Christ.

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’  (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ (John 21:18-19)

This time the Fisherman will sail to depths he never imagined, the dark depths of history where millions of human souls are waiting for the light of the Gospel. The sun goes up by the shores of the lake, the shadow of the Cross begins to grow on Peter’s heart but so does the joy of a future Resurrection, the Renewal of the World that started on Glory Sunday, the long awaited victory and restoration of spiritual Israel.

Quo vadis, Domine?
Where are you taking us now, Lord?

January 16, 2020. On the Feast of  St. Priscilla of Rome, Martyr.