The Stations of the Cross

A pilgrimage is described as a journey, usually to a holy place undertaken for religious purposes. Our current devotion known as The Way of the Cross has in its origins the desire of early church members to follow the footsteps of Christ in his Passion. It has had a lengthy development which has culminated in the current practice we find in nearly all Catholic parishes. It's a devotion that I practice periodically throughout Ordinary time, especially on Fridays: but it becomes especially moving during the season of Lent.

During this season my parish has a weekly Way of the Cross on Fridays at 3 pm (the hour corresponding to our Lords death). I wish there were more souls present, as the lack seems to add to the melancholy. The priest gives some opening remarks and then proceeds with an alter server as cross bearer. The church aisles become transformed into the Via Dolorosa marked with the fourteen stations. At each station we intone a stanza of The Stabat Mater reflecting the pathos of Our Lady. We conclude with Benediction and The Divine Praises, while incense lifts our prayers before the throne of God.

For the readings we use a popular booklet titled "Everyone's Way of the Cross" (EWTC) by Clarence Enzler. I favor this particular version of the 'Stations'. In it Jesus speaks to us in the first person using a compassionate tone as he reveals his thoughts. He refers to his followers as, 'my other self'. After He speaks to us; we reply in guided thought befitting a heartfelt disciple. If you're familiar with the very popular devotional work "My Other Self" (MOS), written in 1958 with the same style by Enzler, then you'll know the intimacy of having Christ in the present moment.

I find this particular devotion more than a 'recalling' or 'remembrance'. Each station is an opportunity for us to 'be there'. It's easy to envision how what happened in the past, still happens to this day. To witness the Condemnation of Jesus at the 1st Station is to see injustice rise up and show its face. We recognize its appearance because we have seen it on the news or perhaps even more closely. Somehow time is sidestepped or transcended to the point where the reality becomes present. The Catholic author and mystic, Caryll Houselander, put it this way:

"The Stations of the Cross are not given to us only to remind us of the historical Passion of Christ, but to show us what is happening now, and happening to each one of us. Christ did not become man to lead His own short life on earth--unimaginable mercy though that would have been--but to live each of our lives. He did not choose His Passion only [to] suffer it in His own human nature--tremendous though that would have been--but to suffer it in the suffering of each one of His members through all ages, until the end of time. […]Above all, (the Stations) show, in detail, His way of transforming suffering by love."

This is part of the pain that we must accept in this pilgrimage: this taking up our cross with Christ and following him. We recognize that we must accept what he accepted and be willing to offer love alone—love purified as our token in uniting ourselves with Him. "If you would become my disciple, take up your cross and follow me."

At each Station the priest proclaims: "We adore you O Christ, and we praise you": and those gathered respond, "Because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world."

Moving to each of the Stations we have a brief glimpse into the whole sordid affair: into our wretchedness that causes him to fall and be bruised; into the pain of his mother as she consented to his sacrifice. We see the crowd, then and now, people of all stripes: his enemies, consumed with anger, righteousness and bitterness; his followers, who bow to the injustice in confusion and fear; those indifferent, who shrug and cast their eyes aside.

Help is required and forcibly obtained, but not out of kindness; rather out of merciless necessity to accomplish the execution. A stranger (Simon of Cyrene) is compelled against his will to carry the cross. Further along, a compassionate unknown figure offers her shawl to wipe his face; and for this she receives the gift of his holy image. We call her 'Veronica', which simply means 'lover of the image'.

We walk by women and children who are crying and upset; the unbounded cruelty passing them by, while goodness is overpowered. Yet Jesus offers them compassion and consolation. He ultimately reaches the place marked for his crucifixion and is stripped of his clothing which has clung to his open wounds.

At the 11th Station Christ speaks (Enzler from EWTC): "Can you imagine what a crucifixion is? My executioners stretch my arms; they hold my hand and wrist against the wood and press the nail until it stabs my flesh. Then, with one heavy hammer smash, they drive it through--and pain bursts like a bomb of fire in my brain. They seize the other arm and agony again explodes. Then raising up my knees so that my feet are flat against the wood, they hammer them fast too."

Our Savior speaks his last from his altar: "Why have You forsaken me?...Forgive them Father…You will be with me in Paradise…There is your mother…there is your son…I thirst…It is complete." Finally, his death is marked by a shudder of the cosmos. The earth quakes, the sky bursts, and the curtain of the temple is torn. Now grief reigns as his sacrificed body is pierced by a lance, un-nailed and buried.

This pilgrimage is now complete. Christ speaks to us once again: "I told you from the start my other self; my life was not complete until I crowned it with my death. Your 'way' is not complete unless you crown it with your life. Accept each moment as it comes to you, with faith and trust that all that happens has my mark upon it. A simple fiat, this is all it takes; a breathing in your heart, 'I will it Lord.' ..."So seek me not in far off places, I am close at hand. Your workbench, office, kitchen, these are altars where you offer love, and I am with you there. Go now! Take up your cross and with your life complete your way."

In our Lord's last days upon this earth he asked his beloved disciples to pray with him, yet they could not stay awake. When he was betrayed and taken prisoner, they ran away. So let us drop what deters us: let us gather ourselves and take up the pilgrimage as fully as possible; even if only to glance upon him with compassion, as he carries the burden of our sins before our very eyes.


teresa_anawim2 said...

Thank you so much for introducing me to your very fine Franciscan blog.
I have bookmarked it and will be visiting often.
Through your blogsite I sense the Joy of the Lord given to you via St Francis and your eagerness to share that joy and love.
Peace and all Good,

Marie said...

I also came across your blog over at Teresa's and so have added you to my blog roll? I hope you dont mind.

Thanking you in advance:)

Peace to you


Tausign said...

teresa, marie, et al: Any and all contemplatives are welcome here.

Little Scribe said...

For the second time this morning your writings have touched my heart. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Something you might find helpful next Lent: If you want to find a Stations of the Cross that is not lonely, maybe one of the Catholic schools near you has one. We are in a suburb of Denver (where we have been spiritually blessed by the fruits of John Paul II's visit, may the same happen to your area this spring). Our school children attend Stations each Friday in Lent. To see tears on a child's face over the Passion is a beautiful thing.