“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
When I began my conversion journey to become Catholic, I quietly visited Catholic churches. I was intrigued by the prominence of sacred art in its many forms. I was especially taken by the fourteen artistic renderings hanging on the church walls. I had no understanding of why they were there or what they stood for. I also had no appreciation for the powerful and humbling devotion that the Stations are to so many. Now I count myself among them.
The Stations of the Cross devotion is sometimes referred to as the way of sorrows for it is a visual and spoken depiction of the passion of our Lord. When we enter into the Stations we are reminded of the suffering our Lord took upon himself for us, for our redemption. Not all the stations are scripturally based but they do touch the human heart.
Later this month during Holy Week we will walk Christ’s passion especially through readings from Sacred Scripture which are essential to the moving liturgies of Passion Sunday, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday. However this devotion need not be restricted to Holy Week. They can be prayed all year; they are attached to church walls all year.
One is not required to visit a Church to pray the Stations however. They can be prayed at home which becomes a spiritual pilgrimage site. Many versions of the Stations are available in prayer books and other resources.
What might we learn from following the passion of Christ one step at a time? What inspiration can lift us as we unite our crosses to the sorrows of Christ’s passion?
Praying the Stations can offer perspective and instruction on how to bear our crosses well and therefore come after and follow him.
At the first station Jesus is condemned though innocent. Jesus then begins the journey to Calvary by lifting up and carrying the cross himself. He does not challenge the cross rather he envelops it and takes in on with courage and resolve. That is a model for us as his disciples.
Even when we do honestly lift up our crosses the journey is a tough one. Jesus fell three times. As we carry our own crosses we may well stumble and fall. He picked himself up in obedience to the Father and continued the journey to Calvary and beyond. So can we.
Of major importance for us along our spiritual way is the support of those who love us. Jesus met his mother who from the cross gave her to us as our mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She loved him and loves us. She is always there to comfort, support and point us to her son.
And so we can pray, “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Pray for us O holy mother of God.” As we carry the heavy burden of our crosses may we call upon the Mother of God and our mother to pray for us that we might with courage and faith deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow her Son.
Jesus met the women of Jerusalem who wept with compassion at his sight and plight. According to the text of some Stations, Jesus offered these haunting words, “Weep not so much for me but rather for your children.”
To bear our crosses daily especially when discouragement is ours, we also need the help of others. Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry the heavy cross and climbed with him up to Calvary.
Veronica rushed forward and tenderly wiped the brow of Jesus. It seems a useless act, yet it was a beautiful gesture of compassion and caring which did not lift the physical burden but lifted the Spirit.
Do we allow others into our lives to help us bear our crosses and lift our spirits?
Then the ultimate reality hit: Jesus is stripped of his clothing, nailed to the cross, raised up to hang in agony, dies and is laid in the tomb.
The heaviness is overwhelming. Yet we know the rest of the story: the tomb does not hold him; death does not prevail. Easter Sunday when we celebrate the Solemnity of the Resurrection of the Lord we will acknowledge that the cross is not the end. He is risen; he is risen indeed. It is an affirmation of what we believe in faith and that we have confidence that Jesus is with us until the end of time as he said.
Saint John Paul II offered these words to encourage us on our journeys as we bear and confront our crosses:
“There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us. And on the far side of every cross we find the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, that new life which will reach its fulfillment in the resurrection. This is our faith. This is our witness before the world.”
Our crosses need not be ends in themselves but rather a call to greater conversion and to deepen our personal relationship with our friend and savior Jesus Christ. May we answer His call enveloping our crosses as did Jesus despite how heavy they are.
We adore you O Christ and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Prayer before the Holy Cross:
Oh, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me! Mary and Joseph pray for me.
Lord Jesus Christ, through Your suffering the Cross grant me strength to bear my Cross without fear or dread and give me the grace that I may follow You. Amen.