By Fr. Christopher Rengers, O.F.M. Cap.
(Origins of the Stations of the Cross | St. Leonard's Way of the Cross)
I: Jesus is condemned
Jesus speaks: A pagan judge, Pontius Pilate, saw through the deceits of My accusers, My own countrymen, over whom I had wept. In an effort to save Me, he had Me scourged. The Roman soldiers then added to this by mocking Me and crowning Me with thorns. But Pilate's words: "Behold the man," aimed at stirring up pity, only stirred renewed cries of "crucify Him, crucify Him." So, weakly, fearing for his own political skin, he went on to condemn Me to death by crucifixion.
I respond: Sometimes, Jesus, when I hope for pity or at least consideration, I am passed by in silence that tells me the other person is not interested. Sometimes I am reproved instead, even mocked for clumsiness or lack of comprehension. Words float back to me, snatches of conversation I'm not supposed to hear. They cut like scourges. My head may throb in frustration, recalling Your crown of thorns.
Of course, sometimes my own exaggerated feelings invite such humbling hurt. Help me, Jesus to remember You, condemned to death, yet most innocent of all wrong and good to all. In my heart may the hope of Pontius Pilate when he said; "Behold the man," come true. May it be a heart turned in pity and sympathy to You.
II: Jesus takes up the cross
Jesus speaks: I had been looking forward to My final hours. Yes, I looked with both longing and with sadness and dread. In the prime of My vigorous manhood, the Father was calling for Me to give up life. My human nature, complete like yours, could feel the sadness and dread of approaching death. I knew ahead of time the sufferings and the manner of death. The prophecies and the hearts of My enemies told Me.
My prayers always to do the will of the Father made Me more certain of the Father's plan. It had to represent the most complete giving clearly, so all men could understand the completeness of My love for them and the justice and mercy of the Father. The thought of it in the garden made Me sweat blood. Now the cross-beam was laid on My shoulders. The weeks and days had passed. The final hours were here.
I respond: Lord Jesus, in my later years the thought of approaching death comes more often. For me, too, it brings a combination of longing with sadness and dread. I long to see You face to face, to meet our Mother Mary and her loving husband, Your virgin-father, Joseph. My reading and the Church's liturgy have made me a friend of many saints. I look forward to meeting them. Many relatives and friends have gone before; my guardian angel is waiting.
But the barrier of death is a blind barrier. Faith tells me of the unknown on the other side. But the thick dark side here looms before my earthly eyes. Then, too, this world is beautiful with its changing seasons, its flowers, its sunrises and sunsets. There are good friends here, too, and dear relatives.
I ask Lord Jesus, to embrace my final Cross, signifying death, with courage, to meet it with open eyes, to offer it and accept it as joined to your Cross, as the plan of the Father for me.
III: Jesus falls
Jesus speaks: In the garden of My agony, when the soldiers seized Me, I said, "This is your hour and the power of darkness." I also reminded Peter, who drew his sword, that I could ask the Father and He could send Me legions of angels to defend Me.
But for now, the plan of the Father called on Me to rely only on My ordinary human abilities. And these, just like yours, are subject to loss of blood, to fatigue, to the emotions. So, it was that soon after taking up the cross, I fell, much to the merriment of some bystanders. Laughter and uproarious shouts of amusement rang in My ears.
No angels came to help, for the Father did not will them to come. But the angels, you can be sure, were not far away. I lay in the dust, as the words of the psalm described Me: "I am a worm and no man."
I respond: I understand, dear Jesus, how You felt, for it happens more often now that I am old, that some bodily or mental weakness makes me do or say things that cause embarrassment. It is not a fall to the ground, of course, but a fall from the image of strength and sureness I like my friends and companions to see. Help me to accept facts and not hide in some imagined cocoon transparent to others. Let me rather learn to have that transparency of simplicity that befits a humble soul. May my guardian angel help me from putting on a false front.
IV: Jesus meets His mother
Jesus speaks: Five days ago, a woman watched people wave palm branches, sing out their "Hosanna" welcome and spread garments before Me. She stood along the way, hoping, praying that somehow, as in the case of Abraham and Isaac, the Father would not demand the supreme sacrifice of her Son's life.
Yes, it was My own dear mother who watched on Palm Sunday. Now she stands again and watches the waving palm of yesterday replaced by the menacing fist of today. We don't need to speak to each other. She looks at Me. I look at her. The story is complete. She knows this has to be the last chapter.
I respond: Lord, thank You for giving us this glimpse into the sorrowful heart of Your mother, more sorrowful than others because it is immaculate. The heart completely untainted by sin can love You in the most complete way. But untainted hearts (or purified hearts) can also enter more deeply into the pain of Your most sacred heart. Their love is the measure of their sorrow.
A person like Your mother does not need to wail and weep aloud or exclaim. One tear glistening on her cheek proclaims the silent profusion of the tears of her sorrow for You and her forgiving love for all of us. Help me to know that one touch on the shoulder, one compassionate glance or a written note from a relative or friend often tells me more than a torrent of words.
V: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus
Jesus speaks: The Father knows everything. Take this meeting along the way to Calvary. Simon of Cyrene came to Jerusalem for the great holy days of the Passover. He was one of millions gathered in the holy city. To the soldiers who grabbed him and forced him to help Me, he was just one of a milling, jostling crowd. He looked strong. To my Father, he was a man chosen to be at that spot at that time. (Did My mother, in her quiet way, help?) To the eyes of the crowd and in the laughter of some, he was the unlucky one. But You know he was the chosen one. That is why You know his name today.
I respond: Yes, Lord Jesus, I understand that what the majority of people think little of is often great in the eyes of God. Those who laughed at Simon or counted themselves happy not to be in his place were the less favored. I'm sure that some people account me ill-favored. They notice my halting words as I struggle to remember. They see my stiff way of walking. They see the sick and the old not able to walk. Some are confined to the wheelchair, some to bed.
Yet in the gracious plan of the Father, as Francis de Sales said, God has seen this moment from eternity. Help me to recognize the moments of grace in my life, and say, "Thanks be to God," whether the moment is one of joy or sorrow, of acceptance or rejection by the crowd, whether one fold or one of a long string of painful moments. May my every moment be a Simon-moment, helping You to carry the cross of salvation.
VI: Veronica wipes Jesus' face
Jesus speaks: Veronica represents many good women who did acts of kindness for Me. Her name means true image. She also represents many good women who do acts of kindness to others for love of Me. As long as you do something for the least of My brothers in My name, you do it for Me. In each case My image is impressed on the heart of the one who helps the cause of justice or does the work of charity.
I respond: Yes, Lord, I understand that in all persons who have a need, whether for food or drink, for clothing, for consolation or for any of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, we should see You. They are all on their struggling Way of the Cross. Every true act of love for the least one, done for You, will leave an impression on our hearts. We also know that the same works for those who aid us in sickness or in the weakness of old age.
So then, teach us to accept help in this way when we need it. The help given us in Your name can also impress Your image on the hearts of our helpers. Whether we help or are helped, our hearts can always grow lighter as we understand this truth.
VII: Jesus falls again
Jesus speaks: There is a sharper interior pain when, after being helped, you find yourself again helpless. My mother Mary, Simon and Veronica had just provided Me in different ways a new courage. Now My mother's face had faded into the nameless and blurred faces of the crowd, among them the taunting with their lips curled, the Veronicas pressing the veils of memories past to their hearts. Simon helped carry the patibulum (crossbar), but My feet still refused to carry Me.
Now I stumbled and My face lay in the well-trodden dust of Jerusalem. This brought renewed, sharp pain from the crown of thorns. But the sharper pain came from the thought of falling just after being helped.
I respond: Lord Jesus, I know how this is. Kind relatives and friends come to comfort me, to try to raise my spirits, to take my mind from the aches of the body, to pass an hour with me on the back porch of memories stored. Then before long, some new demand of the body intrudes. Some rude reminder jumps at me from the lips of a tired, overworked nurse. Some new doubt comes to cast a blurring shadow across my conscience. After being helped, I'm again helpless. There is nobody who could be expected to understand. Show me then, Jesus, how to get up again and go on. You promised that Your yoke would be easy and Your burden light.
VIII: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
Jesus speaks: "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children. For the days will surely come when people will say, 'happy are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne, the breasts that have never suckled.' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if men use the green wood like this, what will happen when it is dry?"
These are the words I spoke to the weeping women who stood along the way, their frightened children clinging to their garments.
I was not refusing their tears, but remembering tears I had myself shed over Jerusalem. How often my heart had yearned for that city, so rich in the history of My people, made holy by its temple, enshrining the memories of so many of My Father's great servants.
But the yearning of My heart met only the pride and refusal of those hearts turned against the truth. The shaft of truth's arrow could not pierce the armor of pride, sin and blind preconception. No. I did not refuse tears, but looked beyond to the tears of these clinging children in their adult years. Not a stone would be left upon a stone. There would be none to dry the tears of their children.
I respond:Yes, Lord, there were tears along the way to the hill of the skull. The pity Pontius Pilate tried to arouse when he presented You to the crowd brought not tears but jeers and renewed shouts of, "crucify Him, crucify Him." Pilate's efforts were further rebuffed by Your enemies' choice of Barabbas, a criminal, over You, the man of perfect innocence. But here on the cheeks of these weeping women is the answer Pilate sought in vain. And in their hearts was the answer he wanted.
Help us, Lord, as we grow old in years, not to grow in hardness of heart, refusing to drop an ancient grudge, to forgive the injury we still remember even as we become more forgetful of other things. This puts us in the company of those who chose Barabbas. Help us rather to join the holy women who wept over You.
IX: Jesus falls a third time
Jesus speaks: There is a strong contrast between a person standing and a person fallen or lying on the ground. There is also a big difference between one who walks with confidence and ease and one who stumbles and sways. People ask, "What is the trouble?" Good people gather around the fallen person and try to help.
As I lie in the dust of the city street, no one rushes to help. Rather, the soldiers prod Me. Do you notice the contrast between the Man in the dust and the Man who walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee, the contrast between the groans of the fallen Man and the confident voice that rebuked the winds and the sea and made them calm? My helplessness is measured against the former show of strength and power. My helplessness now is the proof
I respond: Yes, Lord, we know You took on the fullness of our weak human nature. You experienced everything except sin. We want to join you in accepting the weakness more often felt with advancing age, the greater dependence on others' help. We remember the scampering of our youth, the proud, sometimes proud stride of maturity. Our gait now is uncertain, sometimes stumbling. Some of us fall and break bones. Help us to offer our dependence on others, our helplessness joined to Yours, as the force behind our hope and longing to help others reach heaven.
X: Jesus is stripped
Jesus speaks: At the beginning of My life, My mother wrapped Me in swaddling clothes. That was not far from here, a few miles away at Bethlehem. Her hands had the careful, gentle touch of all young mothers. She brought with her the recent skill of helping her cousin Elizabeth with the infant John. Now the soldiers pull away My garments. They cast lots for the seamless one. The scourging had left my body a mass of wounds. Now the rivulets of blood flow again.
There is new pain. There is worse pain -- from embarrassment. I offer everything to My Father. I recall the words of Job: "I came naked out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither" (Job 1:21). My mother recalls the swaddling clothes, the many garments that through the years her hands have made for Me and for Joseph, given to be My father on earth by My Father in heaven.
I respond: Lord, sometimes in sickness or old age, we go back to the dependency of infancy. We need help in clothing ourselves, in divesting. It certainly affords a great time for exercising humility, for realizing how caring even for the very simple needs of life can be beyond us. So, especially in these times we offer the pain of dependency to atone for sins against modesty, our own and others'. We also ask for those suffering from cold because they lack suitable lodging and clothes.
XI: Jesus is crucified
Jesus speaks: The devotion of the good people who have walked with Me the Way of the Cross has long counted three falls. Now there can be no more, for my feet are nailed to the cross. A long spike has torn through flesh. It has separated and crushed bones. My ordinary earthly journeys are ended. My feet can no longer bear Me to the desert to enjoy its quiet and solitude in prayer to my Father. They cannot carry Me to the temple nor to the homes of My friends; neither can they take me to fishing boats nor bear Me to the gathering places where in the open air I proclaimed the Kingdom. My hands, pierced at the wrists, cause Me more pain than the feet, for here the big nails rub against a large nerve center.
But each shooting pain is an arrow that wings its message of utmost love, even to those who have nailed shut the doors of their hearts.
I respond: Lord, we thank you for explaining. Sometimes the pains of advancing years make a person fretful. The pain echoes in the violence of our speech. Help our relatives and friends, our nurses hear more the message of discouragement and pain rather than the exact meaning of the words that burst from our lips. Help us to remember Your silence before Your judges, to recall Your words turned not to accuse or shout, but rather telling in renewed prayer to Your Father that Your heart is not nailed but free and gentle. Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.
XII: Jesus dies
Jesus speaks: One day a young man asked Me what to do to reach the kingdom of heaven. We counted up the commandments of God and he said: All these I have kept. But he turned away from my invitation: If you would be perfect, go sell all you have and give to the poor and then come, follow Me.
There was the same need for Me in following the will of the Father. My preparation for the three hours on the cross was living the poverty of the 30 years. Not only the poverty of giving up all that men could see, the exterior lack of possessions. It was the interior poverty of giving up all that the spirit cries out for.
On the cross, My words to John and to My mother bespoke the fullness of that poverty. The last wrench of My heart was breaking the bond of filial possession by this visible giving My own mother to the beloved disciple. First I forgave those who hurt Me most, then promised heaven to the thief on my right. After giving My own mother to John, there remained only to feel even the separation from My father in heaven. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me? My full thirst to please Him and save souls complete, My will to live had run its course, and I, at last, can cry from the cross: Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. It is finished.
I respond: Yes, Lord, we see now that the way of poverty is the way to perfection. It is not just the poverty of not having money or home, recalling what You once said that the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head. It is the poverty of losing the strength of the body, sometimes the clarity of the mind. It is the giving up of the final clinging to a grudge, to ill will, resentment, self-pity. The poverty insuring perfection may mean accepting the neglect of friends and family, of being forgotten.
Complete poverty will be for each of us the giving up of life at the end of our earthly pilgrimage. Help us to a new generosity day by day, with You to say, "I thirst for fulfilling the Father's plan, I thirst for souls." Finally, with restful joy, help us to say with You, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" and hear from You: "Come, you blessed of my Father, You have walked the way of His plan for You. You have finished His work."
XIII: Jesus is taken from the cross
Jesus speaks: My mother was not able to comfort Me as all good mothers would do, by soothing My brow, by clasping My hands. They were nailed above -- My head was covered by the crown of thorns. She had held Me as an infant, kissed away the pains of tumbling boyhood's scratches and bruises. Now she holds again My body, a mass of bruises, cuts, wounds. She is the first of all to enter into the union of suffering with Me for the redemption of men.
As my apostle Paul later was to write, "I rejoice now in my sufferings for You and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ in my flesh for His body which is the Church." (Col 1:24).
Nothing is wanting in a bare, absolute sense but My Father's plan extends to others the gift of joining in My redemptive suffering. Wasted pain is a great loss because there need be no wasted pain if those who have faith in Me will only exercise that part of the faith that invites them to be joined with Me in my redemptive suffering.
I respond: Yes, Lord, we understand pain only when we understand that it is conscious redemptive suffering, or it is a preparation for such union with Your Cross. We are grateful to Christian art for giving us touching paintings and statues of Your mother holding Your body just taken from the cross. Help us to be stirred not only to natural pity, but more to fruitful imitation of Your mother and ours in suffering with You for the salvation of souls. The assurance that pain need not be wasted, that it fulfills the plan of the Father is comforting. This assurance is a great gift of advancing age, when discomfort and pain await our calm embrace. May Mary teach us her way.
XIV: Jesus is buried
Jesus speaks: Once my voice called out, "Lazarus, come forth," and My friend, four days in his tomb, rose from the dead. You can see now the completeness of the gift My Father asked of Me. The voice that calmed wind and sea, called the dead back to life, rebuked demons, is stilled in death. The hour of cruelty came, the forces of evil triumphed, the earth trembled and the midafternoon wore the black garments of night in mourning.
A friend, Joseph of Arimathea arranged with Pontius Pilate for the burial. He gave his own tomb, hewn in the rock nearby. My disciples went into hiding; the violence had drained their courage. As the Father had asked the utmost of Me, He asked the utmost of them in paying the price of dashed hopes and the coin of confusion about a trusted leader fallen. They struck the shepherd, and the sheep fled.
I respond: Yes, Lord, once you said the foxes have lairs and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. Your final poverty is death. Its exterior wrapping and evidence is the tomb. But we know it is "only a borrowed tomb." We join in the sorrow of Your mother, of Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene and John and the women who laid Your body to hasty rest. They would return to complete the burial with more care and ceremony. But the tomb would be empty. We ask, Lord Jesus, as our time of death comes closer, to remember more often the day when our now-failing bodies will be restored to life and vigor, and we will join You in happy resurrection.
Father Christopher Rengers, O.F.M. Cap., writes from Washington, D.C.