Painted by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609),
Painted in 1601,
Oil on panel
© National Gallery, London
If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him take up his cross
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?
‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour. I tell you solemnly, there are some of these standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming with his kingdom.’
Reflection on the painting
In today's Gospel reading Jesus said to his disciples: 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me'. Our painting today by Annibale Caracci is a prime example of this Gospel passage in action. Saint Peter is depicted fleeing from Rome to avoid being crucified and has a vision of meeting Christ bearing his Cross, walking in the opposite direction. Peter asks Jesus 'Quo vadis?' ('Where are you going?'), to which Christ replies, 'Romam vado iterum crucifigi' ('I am going to Rome to be crucified again'). Realising that he betrayed Jesus once before during the Passion by denying him three times, he doesn't want to make the same mistake again of abandoning Jesus and his church. Peter turns around and returns to Rome to face martyrdom. Saint Peter is painted here in a state of shock at seeing Christ. Christ, on the other hand, is painted as a muscular athlete carrying the cross. The foot of the cross points towards us as the viewer. So is Christ's right arm, pointing resolutely forward, inviting us t00 to carry our cross and follow him.
This 'Quo Vadis' episode of Saint Peter is the last time that Peter would need to be 'redirected' by Jesus. After this, the Church that began in Jerusalem became Roman, principally because Peter and Paul took the Gospel into what was then the heart of the pagan world and because they both died there.
In our reading today Jesus tells his disciples and us to take up our own crosses... a cross that is unique and very different for each of us.
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Readings related to Matthew 16:24-28
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