By Terence P. Curley
The Stations of the Cross will always be a familiar image. Every parish church has different types of sculpture, pictures, mosaics, word carvings and other ways of portraying a tradition which has been with us for quite some time.
Taking a creative approach to praying the Way of the Cross can be a healing experience. When before only the images changed from church to church, now there are new creative approaches to praying the Way of the Cross.
The traditional format can be followed with innovations that speak to all of our needs. These variations can often serve as catalysts in the revitalization of this rich prayer tradition.
The Way of the Cross puts our life's journey into the context of faith. Suffering in our lives needs expression in healing ways. Very often we just do not know how to express our innermost feelings about life's hurts. When we examine our journey we need to connect it with the Lord's journey which brings redemptive healing and hope.
Loss affects our lives in many ways. In every parish there is the sadness of divorce, the tragedy of being disabled, the death of a loved one, job anxieties, financial problems or the lack of family solidarity. All of this and more have to be put into the context of faith.
Suffering for the Christian takes on meaning when it relates to Jesus' suffering. By reflecting on the images of Jesus and His journey to death we are able to sort out our experiences in healthy and healing ways. The richness of the faith context reflected in the Way of the Crosscalls both the individual and community to a healing experience. As we journey we do experience our losses. Inserting them into the tapestry of the Way of the Crossnot only sanctifies but heals and refreshes us on our journey.
There are many versions of the Way of the Cross.These versions seek to address particular needs within the parish community. As such, they are valuable instruments for including those who are not always addressed. By dedicating a celebration of the Way of the Crossfor the specific groups, the larger community is encouraging members with certain needs to put their feelings into the context of the Way of the Cross.At the same time the larger community is challenged to realize that all needs and challenges come together as we console one another in this prayer.
Some interesting versions are the following: ''On the Way of the Cross with the Disabled,'' ''A Way of the Cross for the Separated and Divorced, ''A Way of the Cross for Religion Teachers,'' ''A Way of the Cross for Children, and ''A Way of the Cross for the Bereaved.'' All of these versions offer new insights to the parish pastoral ministries.
They open up ministry and participation in an effective way for the parish. These specialized approaches should be offered on a regular basis throughout the year. While Lent is the natural time for increased celebration of the Way of the Cross,parishes would do well to schedule not only the regular Stations but also special approaches throughout the year to highlight how the Way of Crossis our way of life.
This approach assists those who often do not feel they are a vial part of the parish life. If we can walk with those who are on the Way of the Cross,our mission as Church is far more fulfilling.
In order to see how these approaches work to revitalize our faith, let us examine one such approach. The Way of the Cross for the Bereaved, for people suffering the loss of a loved one and how it can be a catalyst for healing. As with any version of the Way of the Crossit can be adapted for community celebration. Sometimes due to time constraints a shortened version suffices.
Individually the bereaved may be given a longer version which they may use for meditation. Very often praying just a ''Station a day'' is very helpful for taking a proactive response to loss. When we experience loss we search for a spirituality which will give us strength and consolation.
When we journey with the Lord we are in communion with his suffering on the Way of the Cross. We especially need to do this at certain critical times in our life. The crisis of loss warrants our doing actions to accept and manage that loss in a way which sorts out all the chaos which accompanies it. Amidst the hurt and confusion, the Way of the Cross is a shining path of comfort, healing and organization for our thoughts and feelings.
The death of a loved one is an example of how certain ways of praying the Way of the Crosscan heal. The Way of the Cross for the Bereavedhelps us to do many of the necessary tasks for grief work. As we pray at each station we allow the image to relate to the death of the loved one. We commit the loved one to the Lord and reflect on our own emotions while we grieve.
Very definite needs are met as we examine our loss in light of Jesus' loss. Our feelings in our yearning to be with our loved one -- abandonment, guilt, anger and hope -- are all evident in Jesus' journey to Golgatha.
Pastoral psychology is sensitive to meeting the needs facing the bereaved. In pastoral psychology we are taught the importance of that need to identify our feelings when we are grief stricken.
So very often in our death-denying culture we are not given permission to really express ourselves. This leads to an inability to identify what is really occurring. Symptoms of grief are masked and only surface for the bereaved in the future in the form of physical or emotional turmoil.
In other words, our society, rather than helping, hinders the grieving process. As Christians we must resist the implications of our consumer society which increases attachments and, instead, seek to nourish the faith center of our lives.
A very difficult aspect of grief concerns itself with self-esteem. For many reasons the bereaved feel diminished in dignity and self-worth. Loss deflates our egos in ways we least expect. We need to develop ways of addressing our emptiness and poor conscious self- image. The self-absorption has to be channeled in creative and affirming ways.
Jesus is the one who exemplifies the emptying so necessary. By losing ourselves to Him we really find ourselves. Praying with others on the Way of the Cross connects us with the faith community.
Such connectedness, as we let go of difficult feelings about ourselves, addresses our broken image during grief. The actual stations reflect an image of God's Son as He journeys toward death on the cross.
Healing occurs when we allow new images to become part of us. The images bring about an awareness of reality. As Jesus struggled, so, too, do we in our existence. When we relive the Way of the Crosswe participate in the mystery and find new meaning. Experiencing with Jesus His emptying provides ways for us to let go of obstacles to the healthy and holy expression of our personal losses.
We need healing when an affective tie or bond is broken in a relationship. In death the severing of the tie or bond can be overwhelming. Where do we turn to establish a sense of connectedness in our grief?
The connection with Jesus and His suffering as He encounters us in the Stations helps us feel bonded or connected. The entire journey with Jesus is a rite of passage. As with any rite of passage, there has to be a transition. We act out our feelings in a healthy way as we gain insights into difficulties in our grieving process.
The silent standing in front of the station reminds us that we fall and are lifted up again. We meet friends such as Jesus did when He encountered the holy women of Jerusalem. The women's empathy for Jesus reminds us of all those who are offering comfort and consolation. St. Simon of Cyrene is a symbol of those who want to help us ease the burden.
During bereavement we need to rediscover a sense of meaning in our lives. The chaos and confusion accompanying loss has to give way to purpose. Prayerful attention to the Way of the Cross allows meaning amidst intense suffering.
In order to rediscover meaning, a personal approach to the stations is very helpful. Whether we pray alone or with others we are always in communion with our community of faith. We are always within the deep consoling reality of the Communion of Saints. There is then a basic integrity to our prayer.
In the Way of the Cross for the Bereaved we can remember our loved ones by name. We pray for them to especially be with the Lord Jesus. Such recalling and remembering is an essential part of good grief work.
The Way of the Cross is very much a timeless spirituality for life's separations and losses. As a rite of passage it brings us closer in our meditations to a consoling contemplative union with God who is the God of all consolation.
In reflecting on this approach, as well as other versions, we see the Way of the Cross as a unifying prayer for parishes. Utilizing this traditional prayer is a rich and healing experience.
1. Explain through homilies, newsletters, bulletins, and adult/young people religious formation programs the healing power of the Way of the Cross.
2. Parish support groups ought to be encouraged to pray the Way of the Cross as a healing ritual.
3. Encourage the Parish Pastoral Council, parish organizations and others to sponsor Ways of the Cross which meet the needs of the parish community.
4. Appreciate the healing aspects of ritually expressing ourselves in the context of faith.
5. Develop a ministry of consolation with prayerful responses such as the Way of the Cross. TP
FATHER CURLEY, D.Min., is pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, Nahant, Mass. He has written numerous articles and books in the area of separation and loss. This article reflects his book entitled: A Way of the Cross for the Bereaved, Alba House, New York. 1996. Father Curley is a member of the faculty for St. John Seminary Master of Arts in Ministry Program and teaches courses in pastoral studies.