As he was fleeing, however, he saw Jesus in a vision walking the opposite direction into Rome. Confused, Peter asked him: “Lord, where are you going?”
Christ’s response: “I am going into Rome to be crucified a second time in your place.” Peter, devastated by his Messiah’s answer, stopped, turned around, and returned to Rome to meet his fate and martyrdom: crucifixion upside down on Vatican hill.
In some ways, Peter’s question is similar to a different vision that took place some twelve centuries later, although this time it was the Lord who posed the question. A young Francis of Assisi was still seeking worldly honors and was on his way to fight in the crusades in hopes of becoming a knight and nobleman. However, while overnighting in Spoleto, he heard a voice speak to him in a dream: “Francis, who can do more for you, the Lord or his servant, a rich man or a beggar?”
“The Lord, of course,” Francis responded.
“Then, why are you serving the servant?” asked the Lord again. “Go back to your home and you will be shown what to do.” (See Bonaventure, Major Legend, Chapter 1, 3).
God, in effect, was trying to help Francis change direction. God wanted Francis to understood who he was serving -- himself, his own will and desires, the expectations of his culture, the desires of his earthly father. Indeed, Francis awoke and -- like Peter -- promptly turned around and went back to Assisi to fulfill the will of God. He renounced his dream of knighthood and returned to Assisi a penitent.
Of course God is omniscient and knew exactly where Adam was -- he was hiding naked in the garden with Eve. God, however, was not asking for Himself; instead, he was posing this question for the sake of Adam. God wanted Adam to look inside and realize what he had done -- that he had violated his command and sinned against him.
As we stand at the beginning of a year, we, too, can ask ourselves questions. Of course, God does not speak only to great saints or biblical characters; he speaks to all people. All of us can ask ourselves: “Where are we?” “Where we are going?” and “Who we are serving?” Then if need be, we, too, can turn around and move in another direction -- the direction God wants for us in our lives.
Yet, if you are already sincerely seeking the will of God for your own life (as most people who come to this blog probably are), January is still a good time to take a look back at the previous year as well as look to the future. It is a good time to take stock of what is happening around us and then seek the will of God.
And when we look back at of 2016, we don’t have to look very far to find reasons for worry or preoccupation: an unusually divisive election and increasing political polarization, ongoing terrorism and violence, an overall climate of fear and mistrust. And unfortunately, it looks like last year’s tragedies have already followed us into 2017. We woke up on January 1 with news of yet another bloody massacre in Turkey. The headlines of January 2 on a popular news outlet are not much better: “Brace yourselves for another year of global tumult.”
As Christians, however, how do we see these events? How do we interpret them? Do we allow them to fill us with despair? (The word “desperate” means, etymologically, “deprived of hope.”) Or are we a people full of hope?
When we recite the Creed, we say “I believe…” We say that we believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our faith is in God, not in the world with its vices and corruption. So do we really believe in God? I once heard someone speak of “functional atheism.” By that he meant people who profess to believe, but they are so full of desperation in their everyday lives that they function as atheists - as if they don’t believe.
Regardless of what has happened in our world, we must look forward to the future with hope. We are a people full of hope. Looking forward, surely there will new tragedies and more difficulties. But there are also plenty of graces and blessings: for God is always at work in this world. So let us be full of gratitude and give thanks while we live.
As you walk the road wherever God leads you this year, remember our ultimate destination. Christ gave us hope when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). For our hope is in the Resurrection: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
Katia and I would like to take this time to wish you all a Merry Christmas from Loreto! (Yes, it is still Christmas and the tree will be until the twelfth day of Christmas, which is the feast of the Epiphany, January 6). May 2017 be filled with infinite blessings, great joy, and much hope!
Pax et bonum