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The Quo Vadis tradition

By Adam Burns

THE Quo Vadis tradition is the story of St Peter’s flight from the Emperor Nero’s persecution of Roman Christians in the first century.

As legend has it, Peter decided to flee Rome at the outbreak of the persecution, perhaps in fear, perhaps because he thought “the rock” should be somewhere safe so others could eventually find and cling to it, and to him.

Heading out the Via Appia, Peter meets Jesus, who is heading into the city of Rome to face the persecution.

“Quo vadis, Domine,” Peter asks – “Lord, where are you going?” “I am going to Rome to be crucified,” Jesus answers – and disappears.

At which point Peter turns back into the city to embrace martyrdom.

Vocation comes from the Latin root vocare, meaning to call.

Sometimes I think we understand God’s call to be a divine purpose or mission that comes down to us from the heavens, with God’s booming voice speaking to us.

In that image we lose the sense of question and response: Peter questions Jesus, Jesus answers and Peter responds.

If vocation is just God’s call, we overlook our involvement in understanding that call.

The question of Quo Vadis is not “where am I going?”

Like Peter we can direct the question to Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?”

As we search the Scriptures and our own experiences of God’s presence in our lives, we find answers to that question.

It becomes clear where Jesus would go, what he would do. And we follow.

Following Jesus does not mean travelling around the Middle East performing miracles.

It does mean making the heart of the Gospel a reality in our realities – at work, in class, at home, wherever we find ourselves.

When we honestly ask Jesus that question “where are you going?” it will become clearer how God calls us to live the Gospel in our lives.

In my own life there have been times where I was too caught up in where I was going, in what I was meant to be doing.

The discernment process became well-intentioned naval gazing.

I wanted to serve God and the Church, but I was never going to understand how when I only looked within myself for the answer.

I grew in self-understanding, which is important, but I didn’t know where to direct my gifts or passions.

Stepping out of my own head allowed me to be challenged by God and by others to do something bigger than I thought I was capable of.

At the heart of vocation lies the call to make present the Gospel in our world. It is our Baptismal call.

It is the mission of our Church.

Thus vocation isn’t just an occupation or a role.

When we make the Quo Vadis question a prayer we can discover how God calls us to live the Gospel.

Maybe like Peter that question will force us to turn and confront fears and face challenges. Maybe that question will produce pathways previously unthinkable or unimaginable.

Asking the question, “where are YOU going, Lord?” will lead us to more authentically and perhaps more dramatically understand our vocation in the world.

Adam Burns is a vocations officer for Vocation Brisbane.

Have a vocation question? Contact the team at Vocation Brisbane on 1300 133 544 or at

Written by: Guest Contributor
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