Long before Quo Vadis was a 1950s American film, or a 1920s Italian film, or an 1896 novel – it referred to the Latin phrase “Quo vadis, Domine?” or “Where are you going, Lord?”.
There’s an old legend, found in the apocryphal Acts of Peter. Being a non-canonical text, it’s always important to realize the Church did not recognize this text because it did not meet one of the key criteria to be included in the canon. (Apostolic origin; Read aloud in weekly assemblies; Consistent and contradiction free; Orthodoxy – Consistent belief; Antiquity – Apostolic age)
Even treating this as solely a legend is illuminating.
The story takes place in the “VERCELLI ACTS” after a fanciful “signs and miracles battle” between Peter and Simon Magus (Simon the Magician), which ultimately leads to the charlatan’s demise.
The scene unfolds as in this M.R. James Translation:
XXXV. And as they considered these things, Xanthippe took knowledge of the counsel of her husband with Agrippa, and sent and showed Peter, that he might depart from Rome. And the rest of the brethren, together with Marcellus, besought him to depart. But Peter said unto them: Shall we be runaways, brethren? and they said to him: Nay, but that thou mayest yet be able to serve the Lord. And he obeyed the brethren’s voice and went forth alone, saying: Let none of you come forth with me, but I will go forth alone, having changed the fashion of mine apparel.
And as he went forth of the city, he saw the Lord entering into Rome. And when he saw him, he said: Lord, whither goest thou thus (or here)? And the Lord said unto him: I go into Rome to be crucified. And Peter said unto him: Lord, art thou (being) crucified again? He said unto him: Yea, Peter, I am (being) crucified again. And Peter came to himself: and having beheld the Lord ascending up into heaven, he returned to Rome, rejoicing, and glorifying the Lord, for that he said: I am being crucified: the which was about to befall Peter.
Having been humiliated yet again for the sake of his personal growth from his tendency to cowardliness, Peter finally accepts his cross, and returns to the City of Rome to be crucified – unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord, Peter asks to be crucified upside-down.
Often it’s the pains, the humiliations that give us the most spiritual growth. I often find myself asking the Lord in prayer: “Lord, keep me humble – but be gentle!”