Mar 14, 2023
“The Stations of the Cross are not just about Jesus’ final hours; they are about all the hours of all of our lives.”
When I was in grade school (parochial), there were no Fat Tuesdays to usher in the season of Lent – 40 dreary days leading up to Holy Week. Instead, we were subject to a ‘penitential practice’ perfectly commensurate with the event it presaged: crucifixion. No, not self-flagellation. Lord knows, we had parents enough for that. No, it was a Christian rite known as the Stations of the Cross.
If the name sounds ominous, it was! Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover! Every Friday afternoon during Lent – Friday for heavens’ sake, ‘Freedom Day’ for the under 13 crowd – when the bell rang at 2:30, instead of rushing home and out to play, we were marched in silence to the near-by church to celebrate the stations.
Some celebration! We sat in silence in a dimly lit church for what seemed like hours…but probably was less than 60 minutes. For excitement we got to watch a priest and two altar boys (sic) walk slowly up and down the aisles of the church, stopping at each one of the ‘stations’, a plaque on a far wall of the church.
Some mumbling, a few prayers, then off to the next station! Rinse, repeat! 14 times! Jesus wept!
Many years later, in my mid-20’s, I traveled to Europe with my brother. One afternoon, we found ourselves in a grotto with an open air display of those same dreaded stations. In my newly acquired spirit of open mindedness, I decided to walk through them ‘one last time’; suddenly, like Paul en route to Damascus, light broke over Marblehead… I got it!
The Stations of the Cross are not just about Jesus’ final hours; they are about all the hours of all of our lives:
First Station: Jesus is condemned to death. As are we all, condemned to death that is, from the very moment of our conception. Now is the hour of our death. To live is to die, to live our life as our death. As the Irish would say, “Jesus, we hardly knew ye.”
Second Station: Jesus takes up His cross. We are born. With our first post-natal cry, each of us unwittingly accepts a role as an active participant in the pageant of life. We make our mark in the Big Book of the universe. We sign the contract.
Third Station: Jesus falls for the first time. Childhood can be overwhelming. We encounter unanticipated obstacles, we stumble, we make mistakes. A road diverges in the wood, and sometimes we don’t really want to take either branch, but of course, we must choose. Jesus too! Christian doctrine holds that Jesus did not sin, but he was most certainly subject to all the same temptations we are, and he too had to make decisions. Should he obey his parents or stay teaching in the temple?
Fourth Station: Jesus is met by His Blessed Mother. Who is there to pick us up when we fall? Our mothers, of course. “Kiss it and make it better.” Mothers are healing, mothers are forgiving. Most of us have our first taste of ‘the spiritual’ through our mothers: love and the ontological vistas love opens for us.
Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross. Next to our moms, no one is as important to us, growing up, as our peers. (Sorry, Dad!) Throughout our lives, but perhaps most especially during the later stages of childhood, we ‘depend on the kindness of others’. Friends make us feel we belong. Others share our same predicament. They carry our crosses as we do theirs. We’re all in this together!
Sixth Station: The face of Jesus is wiped by Veronica. From tween (above) on to teen, young love is our next encounter with ‘the other’. We discover sexuality, and we experience both compassion (mother) and companionship (friends) in a single person.
Seventh Station: Jesus falls a second time. The trials of adolescence. The indiscretions of our youth. Who makes the passage from 12 to 20 without copious mishaps?
Eighth Station: Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem. With adulthood comes a more mature relationship with others. We assume our places in society. We enter careers, we form families. We are now capable of mature, reciprocal relationships. “Oh, Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console.” (St. Francis)
Ninth Station: Jesus falls a third time. The burdens of adulthood can be crushing. Now we are tempted by the sins of middle age.
Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of His garments. Ultimately, our identities unravel; we find ourselves naked again. If we are to discover our true selves, we must shed our myriad false selves, symbolized by our choice of clothing (uniforms): from sun suit to business suit to sweat suit.
Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross. We have shed our personae, but now we must put on the cloak of the cosmos, symbolized by the cross, the intersection of all that is. Now we must accept responsibility for our lives, for the part we’ve played in the evolution of the world as it has come to be. This part is no picnic.
Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross. Once we have wrapped ourselves tight in the cloak of the cosmos, we are absorbed into it. We die!
Thirteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the arms of His Blessed Mother. Death recapitulates life. We are back in the arms of our mothers. Nothing has changed yet everything is different; everything has changed yet nothing is different.
Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb. “It is finished!” Beyond the arms of our mothers, we are now comingled with our ancestors, with the cosmos, with Big Bang itself. At the First Station, we were condemned to death. Sentence executed! Hurry Easter!