March 21, 2010


Neither do I condemn you. – John 8: 11

The devotion known as the Stations of the Cross was popularized by the Franciscans in response to a need: There were few who had the time or money to make an actual pilgrimage to the Holy Land to walk the route our Lord took to the cross (known as the Via Dolorosa). So this devotion was devised so that they could make the pilgrimage in their imagination. It was important then as it is now to understand the “rules” of these fourteen stations.

They are just that, stations or stationary standing places. The pilgrim of yesteryear & today is to stand before the depiction of Jesus’ way to the cross for two reasons. One is to meditate on the scene before him or her, but the more important reason is to enter into it, that is, be a participant, to take on the role of some character or other. Let’s take a few examples.

The first station: Jesus is unjustly accused by Pilate. Have you stood any time in your life, falsely accused, when rumors spread about you, when you were the victim of false gossip? No matter how hard you tried to explain, no one seemed to believe you? How about all those in prison falsely accused, or those sent to their deaths like St. Thomas More on trumped up charges? If you’ve been there, how did you act? Do you identify with Jesus before Pilate, keeping silent & offering up your humiliation for the sins of the world, or at least knowing that He’s been there before you, knowing that God will have the last Word?

There’s the poignant Fourth Station: Jesus meets his mother. Mary’s heart was broken not only because she saw her son publicly disgraced & humiliated, going to his death as a common criminal, but most of all that she could not help him.

Mary is every parent unable to save their children. Every parent who watches by the hospital bed, every parent who has buried a child, every parent who stand by helplessly to watch a child disintegrate with drugs or alcoholism, whose unending prayers plead with God for a son or daughter living a sinful lifestyle, who have departed from the faith, or whose marriage is falling apart. Mary is every parent with arms achingly outstretched because they want so badly to save their child & can’t, at least not right now.

The Fifth Station: Simon is forced to carry Jesus’ cross. This is for those people who carry crosses they did not want or ask or bargain for. No one wanted the sick parent, the retarded child, the cancer, the addiction, the divorce, the job loss, the depression – unwanted crosses of all descriptions. Too many of us have the name of Simon of Cyrene, & we’re angry with God & frustrated. If Simon started out with anger – he was forced into carrying the cross against his will – after a time he was moved to understanding, & from understanding he was moved to love, & from love he moved onto his own salvation & became, as it were, a co-redeemer with our Lord. Could this too be my calling?

The Ninth Station: Jesus falls the Third Time. People who spend time here readily say, “I recognize this station from experience, for here I stand with my habits of sin, the nasty word out of my mouth before I can stop it, the quick judgment, the ongoing gossip, etc. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many times I confess it, no matter how bad I feel afterward, I can’t seem to shake my favorite sin. I keep falling, like Jesus. But if I stand there long enough I begin to perceive that his station really has a different focus. It really should read, “Jesus gets up again, the third time.” How about it Lord? One more time? Don’t let me get discouraged.

The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross forgiving his enemies. I who still hold grudges & harbor a hard heart – how can I be forgiving?

And so it goes. You see, the Stations are more than a simple pious devotion. They are life, they are where we are. They reflect our pain, but they give us hope, for there is a fifteenth Station called the Resurrection. If we could take just one station each day to contemplate, it would be a good preparation for Easter. AMEN!