Have you ever considered that the stations of the cross (usually) encircle us when we gather in our place of worship? In St. Thomas More Church, where I celebrate mass with the university community, the large and beautiful mosaics tell the story of the last day of Jesus in whatever direction one turns. They embrace us as we pray and meditate. When I think of the home parish of my youth in Brooklyn, my mind’s eye easily remembers the elder members of the community slowly and solely making their way along the route of the passion as it wreathes the Church.
In the Lenten weeks, it seems right to me to be surrounded by this Christian memory. So much of life seems to receive expression in this way of meditation and prayer. Those who love us—relatives and friends—are there, as well as those who dislike us. We fall and get up, fall again and get up again, and fall again and get up again. Some people want to comfort and help us, others want to take our dignity and our freedom. In the end, nothing remains to be taken; it has all been given. This part of our journey is over when we, like Jesus, breathe our last.
Can we imagine Christ coming among us and saying wonderful things and doing marvelous deeds, but not making this last walk that captures so much of the human experience of each of us?
Sitting in the center of the stations can open our minds and hearts in many ways as we look at the world that surrounds us. This position can nourish within us a sympathy for those who suffer in so many ways. The images remind us of our need to continue to try to live faithfully, and to try again when we fail. They can also encourage us in the little kindnesses that we can offer one another. These efforts ease the struggles of our brothers and sisters, those whom we love as well as those whom we do not know.
As we enter into this Lenten Season, our steps can naturally lead us along the way of the cross. We follow this route not only because it describes something of our own journey, but also because we take up our crosses as followers of Christ. It marks the only path to Easter.
Our “stations of the cross” offer a route that encompasses suffering, falling, mockery and various types of encounters. Sometimes, it requires relying on someone else for help because we cannot make the journey alone; sometimes it means allowing someone else to wipe our face because we do not have the resources to do it for ourselves. And sometimes, it invites us to wipe the face of another. You have walked the Stations of the Cross, what has it meant for you? Are you ready to travel this path again? You tread it as you deal with the difficulties in your own life and in the lives of those whom you love who suffer. Many paths lead to the foot of the cross. We cannot avoid the journey if we hope to arrive at that special place where Jesus has gone ahead of us.
However, the cross is not simply a goal but also a starting point. From the foot of the cross, the Christian Community went forth to encounter the risen Lord who brought them the gifts of life reborn and of hope undimmed. The wonderful story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb of the resurrected Jesus emphasizes for us that Jesus is marvelously alive and leads us in new ways and in new directions. We are urged not to “cling to him” but to follow him as “he goes before us” (Jn 20:17) in life and in hope. The cross is also the symbol of victory. From the foot of the cross a new future opens. This reality rings true for us as we take sure steps along its way.