Experiencing the Passion of Christ
March 4, 2005
By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice
Jesus falls for the first time.
I stare at the weakness in his eyes. I can look at his whole body and see the exhaustion. As I behold him there on the ground, being roughly pulled up, I know forever how profoundly he understands my fatigue and my defeats...
This meditation on the suffering and death of Jesus, written by Father Andy Alexander, SJ, and Maureen Waldron of Creighton University, helps bring to life the last steps of Christ in a popular devotion called the Stations of the Cross.
Catholics use the Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of the Cross, to meditate on different scenes from Christ's Passion and to enter into the mystery of his suffering and death.
A series of 14 pictures or statues represent the stations, and, in most Catholic churches, line the walls of the worship space. People pray the stations, moving from one to the next.
When we pray the stations, we walk around the church as though walking around Jerusalem, said Father Alexander, director of the Collaborative Ministry Office at Creighton University.
Although they are not based on the Scriptures, the stations are based on the memory of the very early faith community and their prayer and reflection on the Passion of Christ, he said. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, many people reflected on his Passion and death. They made visits to Jerusalem and walked in his footsteps, remembering the events along the way.
As Christianity spread, distance made it almost impossible for people to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so villages in Europe began creating replicas of the Way of the Cross in their towns, Father Alexander said. Eventually, smaller replicas of the stations were placed in churches.
The number of stations has varied over the years, but in the 1700s, the 14 current stations became fixed.
Father Alexander said it's important to remember that the Stations of the Cross are a prayer, not a theological or historical lesson on the events of the Passion. They are a reflective prayer that leads to gratitude.
Before the mystery of such love, the only response is gratitude, he said.
Waldron, associate director of the Collaborative Ministry Office at Creighton, called the Stations of the Cross a "heart prayer."
"This is a prayer, not about your head, but about being with someone you love very much, watching him in his pain and realizing that pain is for me because he loves me so much," she said. "It's about being with his mother, Mary, and with the people who love him."
Through the stations one can see Jesus' solidarity with his people, Father Alexander added.
"Jesus knows what it means to be judged unjustly. He knows what it is to carry a cross, to be burdened. He knows what it is to fall. He knows what it is not to be able to continue on his own," he said. "He knows what it is to be stripped, to be mocked and ultimately to face the fear of death."
Although the Stations of the Cross can be prayed individually all year long, most people pray them as a community on Fridays during Lent. Many texts have been written, including one by Pope John Paul II and the meditation by Father Alexander and Waldron, which can be found at www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/stations.
Leading the communal Stations of the Cross every Friday during Lent is a powerful experience for Father Keith Rezac, pastor at St. Ludger Parish in Creighton and St. Ignatius Parish in Brunswick.
"Most of the time when I'm praying them, it's just as if I'm walking right there with Jesus and experiencing what he's experiencing," he said. "At various times I get so moved that I'm almost to the point of tears."
"The Stations of the Cross serve as a reminder of what we need to do in our daily lives," he said. "Jesus suffered and died for us and we need to suffer and die to ourselves to overcome sinfulness in our lives," he said.
"Devotions like the Stations of the Cross enhance one's prayer life," Father Rezac added, "but unfortunately, many people have forgotten about these treasures."
"Whatever we can use to get us in touch with God, to help us get in touch with God, whether it be the rosary, the scapular, Stations of the Cross or prayer cards, that's a wonderful thing," he said. "That's what we need in the world today."