Get The Most Out of The Stations of the Cross

Jeannie Ewing

Get The Most Out of The Stations of the Cross

We begin the journey to Calvary with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when we pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, yet the Stations of the Cross place us with Him in front of Pilate as He is condemned to die – cruelly and unjustly.  As we meditate on the first four stations, we can choose to walk this journey with Jesus.  So many aspects of our lives parallel the suffering of Christ, yet we often unnecessarily separate our crosses with The Cross.  When we unite our suffering with The Cross of Christ, we become transformed by His grace.  Scripture also tells us that we participate in the universal suffering of the Body of Christ by compensating for the lack or avoidance of suffering by others (see Colossians 1:24). 

Station 1: Jesus is Condemned to Death

My Jesus, though we are accused daily of being fools, let the vision of Quiet Dignity standing before Monstrous Injustice, give us all the courage to be Your followers.” ~ Mother Angelica

The world still condemns Jesus through its rejection and skepticism.  As the mother of a child with a rare disease, I often hear from nonbelievers, “Why would a benevolent God permit suffering in the world?”  To the skeptic, this question hold exceptional validity, but we can turn to the First Station for the beginning of our answers.

We may believe Jesus is silent in our lives and world as He was while Pilate questioned Him, based on the accusations of the crowd.  We become uncomfortable and even frustrated as Jesus stands before His accusers with little to say, because we want Him to defend Himself – as we want Him to defend us when we are persecuted for our faith.  The extreme humility of Jesus speaks a bold proclamation that no words could suffice to explain: We must be willing to be condemned by the world and accept all that God permits to befall us.

This is why St. Paul says “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25): it’s because we appear weak in the face of our opposition when we surrender to it without rebuttal or defense.  In this Station, Jesus teaches us that strength is often disguised as weakness; that is, responding with humility in the face of scorn and mockery is the real strength of spirit, because it requires a tempering of our thoughts and tongues.  When we allow God’s grace to supersede our human inclinations, we are responding like Jesus in this Station: we know that good will transpire from all struggles and strife if we acquiesce to God’s permissive will.

Station 2: Jesus Carries His Cross

I see injustice and am frustrated and when my plans to alleviate it seems futile, I despair…I utterly fail to see the dignity of the cross as it is carried with love. I would so much rather be without it.” ~ Mother Angelica

When my husband and I married, depth was added to my cross at the time: I was no longer “I” but “we.”  I could no longer do everything as I desired, because my decisions affected my husband.  When we became parents, another layer of suffering was added to our cross: now we were no longer “Jeannie and Ben,” but all of our needs had to be placed after our baby’s temporal, emotional, and spiritual needs.  I discovered new meaning to “lack of sleep” and became more appreciative of what I had previously considered a commodity.  

Before I became a mother, I sat in our living room after one of my spiritual direction sessions.  I was meditating on the writings of St. John of the Cross, serenely enjoying the solitude as my belly protruded more and more.  As I was listening in the silence, I heard Jesus speak to my heart, “Do you accept your cross?”  In an instant, it was abundantly evident that suffering would become a constant companion in my life if I responded affirmatively.  I hesitated, because I didn’t want a heavier cross.  In fact, I wanted an easier, typical life.

Jesus’s mercy is so immense that He gave me an option that day.  I knew in my heart that I didn’t have to say “yes” in order for greater sanctification.  I truly had a choice.  But because I saw His love as He willingly picked up His Cross – for my salvation – I felt I couldn’t refuse Him.  My heart somehow acknowledged the intimate and unyielding connection between suffering and love, so I accepted whatever heavier cross would ensue.  

We must remember the “dignity of the Cross,” as Mother Angelica so aptly describes it.  There is great beauty in picking up our crosses – without shame or regret – so that we, too, may walk the journey to our crucifixion beside Jesus.  Many of us will never experience a red martyrdom (though some will), but we will all experience the execution of self through a white martyrdom when we choose our cross – when we choose Love – over fear or familiarity.

Station 3: Jesus Falls the First Time

If the Father permits failure in my life just as He permitted You to fall, then I must know there is good in that failure which my mind will never comprehend.” ~ Mother Angelica

I don’t want to admit that Jesus succumbed to the weight of the Cross.  I’d like to believe that His divinity would permit Him to exhibit a supernatural ability of overcoming the Cross.  Yet the Cross overcame Him, and this was the first of three times that Jesus allowed its onus to crush Him.  I can hardly comprehend why the Father would allow His only Son to fall in the wake of such extreme suffering, but I see now that failure isn’t always final.  

Many great thinkers (not all religious) saw the wisdom in failure.  Somehow failing at an attempt to try something new or develop an innovative product offered an opportunity to try again.  We learn perseverance through failing when we get up as Jesus did.  He didn’t remain on the ground, because if He had, there would have been no victory.  Instead, He got up and forged ahead to the location of His Crucifixion.  When we fail, we can give up because of the temptation of perfectionism, or we can learn from our mistakes and believe that God will bring something even greater out of them.

Station 4: Jesus Meets His Mother Mary

I think of that glance between You and Mary - the glance that said, ‘Let us give this misery to the Father for the salvation of souls. The Father's power takes our pain and frustration and renews souls, saves them for a new life - a life of eternal joy, eternal happiness. It is worth it all.’” ~ Mother Angelica

As a cradle Catholic, I learned about Mary as soon as I learned about the Holy Trinity.  She was always highly esteemed, but my Protestant side of the family (and some of my friends) convinced me that our faith gave her too much honor.  After that, for a time, I became uncomfortable with the closeness between Mary and Jesus.  I thought there had to be some distance between them in order to distinguish Jesus as Man-God and Mary as “merely” human.

Several years ago, however, my mother introduced me to a particular devotion: the United Hearts of Jesus and Mary.  The concept was to love the union between Jesus and His Mother, which I learned was truly inseparable.  This is evident when Jesus meets His Mother on the way to His Crucifixion.  His gaze pierced her heart.  Her tears pierced His.  It’s impossible to divide the love between Jesus and His Mother – our Mother.

I have grown to love Our Lady with warm affection, and she always leads me closer to her Son.  To understand her love is for Jesus’s heart to be revealed more fully, so the affliction of her sorrowful heart was also Jesus’s affliction.  My affliction is felt by both of them, and I am consoled by the soothing presence of Our Lady when all seems dark and hopeless.

She leads me to Jesus, and He to the Cross.  I have come to know that love cannot exist apart from self-sacrifice, which is what the love exchanged between Jesus and His Mother in this Station reminds me each time I meditate upon it.

As we begin this journey into our hearts through meditating on the first four Stations of the Cross, we are immediately faced with the themes of our own lives: suffering, weakness and humiliation, failure, and the potential for perseverance and fidelity through love.  We confront our discomfort as we reflect upon Jesus’s incomprehensible torments, and we realize that we, too, must be transformed by our own crosses.  

In all of life’s trials and mysteries, we can be consoled by one thing: the cross, when offered in conjunction with Jesus’s Cross, becomes our source of strength, hope, and love.  Even as contradictions seem to speckle our lives as we continue on our own path to Calvary, we remember the outcome of such a journey, and we are renewed in that resolve to forge ahead, despite what greater sufferings may belie our will to survive.

When we reach the end of our lives and die a physical death, as we all must, we can do so with confidence in our attempts to face the pain and losses we’ve endured instead of ignoring them.  Then Jesus will greet us with a smile as He holds out His hand to us, saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (see Matthew 25:21).  May the tragedies become the ultimate triumph in Heaven as we tarry with Jesus for a time on this road to suffering and self-abnegation.

Stations five through eight focus on the people of the Passion.  These include Simon the Cyrenean, Veronica, and the women in Jerusalem.  Each has a unique vantage point as a witness of the Passion of Jesus, and each is moved to assuage His agony in a different gesture of compassion.  In a paradoxical twist, as each person was inspired to reach out to Jesus, each was also profoundly and unexpectedly transformed by their suffering Savior.  Even during His Passion, Jesus healed.

Station 5: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross

Even when I reluctantly carry my cross as Simon did, it benefits my soul.” –Mother Angelica

When our youngest daughter, Sarah, was born with a rare craniofacial anomaly called Apert Syndrome, it was as if a new onus had been thrust upon us – a new life consisting of crisis management and enigmatic uncertainty.  Not only was Sarah’s condition an unwelcome surprise, but it was also a new cross for our family.

Sarah was born during Holy Week, and both Ben and I had been meditating on the Stations of the Cross prior to my going into labor.  We both fell silent at the fifth station, because we discovered ourselves as Simon the Cyrenean: unassumingly passing through life with our typical rhythms and routines, yet startled and aghast at the prospect of carrying an unknown cross, a cross that was neither desired nor anticipated.

Yet this same cross became our saving grace.  Just as Simon discovered himself to be in an appalling situation, and he most likely accepted the task of assisting Jesus with trepidation and reluctance, Ben and I would have chosen for Sarah to be born as a typical child.  We didn’t want the cross of a medical diagnosis and a lifetime of surgeries and specialists.  We didn’t want the added financial burden or the stigma she would someday experience because of her facial differences.  Simon didn’t want to feel the weight of the Cross, but in carrying it, he intimately encountered Jesus.  This transformed him.  Similarly, Ben and I have been strengthened and nurtured by our unique cross of having a daughter who is medically fragile. 

We all get roused from our comfortable existences from time to time.  The violence of the Cross is necessary to awaken us from our spiritual slumber.  We may protest when God asks us to carry a load we’d prefer not to bear.  We may reject the Cross, yet its profundity of love continues to beckon us.  The moment we capitulate to that abyss of Jesus’ love is the moment we have discovered life itself exists only within the parameters of redemptive suffering.  Herein lies the gift of the Cross.

Station 6: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

I want nothing but to have Thy face fixed on my heart.” –Plino Correa de Oliveira

During Jesus’ perceived abandonment by the Father on the road to Calvary, Veronica compassionately extended the simple gesture of wiping His face.  Imagine Veronica’s courage in the situation of mass confusion and frenetic fury engulfing her.  She was risking much to reach out and touch Jesus so tenderly, including her reputation, people’s opinions and judgment, and her own personal safety.  The desire to ameliorate Jesus’ pain, even if only for an instant, overwhelmed any qualms she may have experienced.  This was her gift of love to Jesus.

I consider the ways I, too, console Jesus with my small-yet-magnanimous acts of love.  At times I offer Him my tears, my gratitude, my work, my fears, or my lofty thoughts crammed in the middle of a hectic day.  These offerings, though small, alleviate the grievous wounds in Jesus’ heart: the indifference, ingratitude, blasphemy and sin that infect the people of our modern culture. 

Station 7: Jesus Falls the Second Time

If I keep my eyes on You and watch how You suffered, I will be able to bear my cross with greater fortitude.” –Mother Angelica

When Jesus fell the second time under the weight of His cross, all seemed truly desolate and hopeless.  His weakness appeared to prevail over His Divine strength.  He succumbed to the weight of the Cross – our sins, the darkness of evil, and the looming clouds of death and decay.  Yet He arose and persevered, forging ahead on His destined path to crucifixion. 

How often do I fall beneath my cross?  I falter, though I am aware of the ultimate glory that awaits me when I, too, pick myself up and advance on my personal path to sanctification.

All of us are given a unique passion that, in many ways, mimics Jesus’ Passion.  We are drawn to the hope of the Resurrection rather than suffocated by our miseries when we pick up our crosses after each fall and appeal to God for Divine Grace to uplift and uphold us through each struggle.

Station 8: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

Thou gave to these pious women their vocation: ‘Weep.’  Their great vocation is to weep for the chastisements that just and innocent men suffer as a result of collective sin.” –Plino Correa de Oliveira

I am the son or daughter of Jerusalem each time I silently meet Jesus in my pain.  I unite my current agony to His Passion as I weep bitterly and mourn my losses.  In this way, I participate in the wailing and groaning of the women of Jerusalem, who were at times overlooked but more often mocked and ridiculed.  Jesus did not ignore their acknowledgment of the gravity of His death.  Their tears were born that fateful Friday, born of an inexplicable love for their God.  My tears, too, speak a language of the heart that reaches the heights of Heaven.     

Somehow we all participate in the sufferings caused by social sin.  When our hearts are moved with empathy or grievous sorrow as we hear about violent acts, acts of indifference or even blatant heresy and blasphemy, we weep along with the women of Jerusalem.  We weep with – and for – the necessity of Jesus’ Paschal Mystery.  We mourn with Him, and our wounded hearts offer Jesus consolation that not all of humanity is lost to eternal damnation.  A heart that suffers is a heart full of love, earnestly waiting to embrace Jesus and journey with Him in His agonizing Passion.

We all know that suffering is not the conclusion to our life’s journey.  If it were, the Cross would be meaningless.  Pain and sorrow would lead to despondency and despair.  But we are encouraged by the hope and promise of new life in the Resurrection.  We are resurrected each time we participate in the Sacraments through holy preparation.  We are purified as we humbly confess our vices and struggles in overcoming sin.  The Resurrection is an eternal hope, not just an event following the Passion and Death of Jesus.  We are forever transformed by the power of the Cross that overcame death, so we cling to the dawn of day and the rising of the sun in each aspect of our spiritual expedition to Heaven.

In His final moments, portrayed in stations 9-14, Jesus’ agony becomes bearable only through His Divinity.  The Father permitted His Son to undergo unfathomable and excruciating torments, upheld by Divine Grace.  In our humanity, we are tempted to view these final hours as defeat.  We do not fully grasp the necessity of suffering – in our own lives or in Jesus’ Paschal Mystery. 

Let us encounter the suffering Jesus, embracing His total gift of self.  Let us offer nothing less to Him than the total gift of ourselves.

Station 9: Jesus Falls the Third Time

May this step of Thy Passion obtain for us graces to be invincibly constant in good, seeing clearly the way to true heroism, which can reach its utmost and loftiest limits without ever being mistaken for a  vile and presumptuous temerity.”  -Plinio Correa de Oliveira

When Jesus falls the third time, we believe He has succumbed to defeat.  His collapse seems to signify giving up the fight when we analyze His fall through our limited lens.  How is it possible that His weakness overcomes all we have come to know of His Divinity?  How can He collapse when we need Him to press on for our sakes?  What hope is there if Jesus does not rise again – both after this fall and after His death?

We begin to lose hope at this third fall, but our human reason cannot understand the strength of Jesus' will, which is simultaneously human and divine.  Perhaps Jesus’ fall is a symbol of his surrender—a surrender which is not hollow, but full of promise.  This promise is a mystery enshrouded by the darkness of the moment, but, through faith, we are certain it will be fulfilled. 

Jesus’ falling and rising on the road to Calvary represents the journey of humanity—our stumbling in sin, our sinking into grief after tragedy strikes, and the burdens of our personal crosses, but also the resurgence of faith that appears after we are cleansed by the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist—the reawakening we discover in overcoming adversities, and the rising up again after each challenge and hurdle that pushes us down. 

Jesus teaches us a new heroism.  Rather than advancing without hindrance, He shows us surrendering—the ability to know when to succumb to the falls and when to stand back up and carry on.

Station 10: Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

All of Christ’s life was humiliation.”  -St. Vincent de Paul

I read this quote several years ago and was struck by its poignancy.  From His birth through His death, Jesus was demeaned simply by being in human form.  Certainly as He was stripped of His garments, the ignominy against His guileless Divinity escalated.  Though his accusers attempted to strip Jesus of His divinity by stripping His garments, they could not erase His Divine mission.

Jesus permitted this stripping, which may symbolize the stripping of self that self-abasement requires.  There is a certain spiritual transparency that supersedes His literal nakedness in this moment.  Jesus does not want us to hide behind the façade of our emotional and spiritual barriers that we present to the world.  Being exposed invites vulnerability and risks rejection, but this stripping of our outer and inner layers of sin, protection, and barricades must occur.

Stripping of self is a true and ultimate act of abandoning the obstructions between us and Jesus, between us and the rest of the world.  When nothing is left to provide a hiding place – not even our outer garments – we are finally able to present our spiritual nakedness to Jesus as a gift, a total offering of all that we are, entirely unveiled.

This is the beginning of authenticity.

Station 11: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

Honor only comes with victory.  And winning consists in not abandoning the cross even when one falls beneath it…It consists in carrying the cross to the heights of Calvary and letting oneself be crucified.” –Plinio Correa de Oliveira

I knew a cesarean section was inevitable when I was fully dilated and effaced, and my heart rate – as well as Sarah’s – was increasing far too rapidly.  To me, a c-section indicated defeat.  It was a path I avoided as a possibility in my mind as Ben and I were preparing for Sarah’s birth in the months preceding that moment.  It seemed to me an apparent failure – much like Jesus being nailed to the Cross appeared to be a total loss, the finale of hopelessness.

The physicians prepped for surgery as darkness descended upon my psyche.  All was black.  I was stripped of my dignity as they stripped me of my garments and lay me on a table with my arms outstretched.  I was weeping as they fastened my wrists to each side so that I was rendered incapacitated.  I could not move my legs, because they had been numbed from the spinal tap.  And now I could not even move my arms, because they had been secured by a medical professional.

To articulate the humiliation of that moment in words is inadequate.  Initially I sobbed out of frustration and perception of defeat.  Then my tears were joined with those of the Crucified Christ as I came to comprehend more acutely the degradation of placing one’s body in the hands of total strangers.  Even with my arms outstretched, I felt a particular mystical union with the Crucified Christ, and I wept out of shame for my sins that had nailed Him there millennia ago.

Oddly – and similarly to Jesus being nailed to the Cross – I knew I was offering my body to safely provide new life to the child within my womb.  Though I was terrified to endure a dreaded c-section, I was aware of the necessity of my sacrifice, my pain, my being cut open and bleeding for the sake of Sarah’s life.

Our lives, too, are born of the sacrifice of Jesus nailed to the Cross.  Our souls are born again as He waits in agony for His final hour.  He sees the necessity of this tumultuous journey, because He witnesses the faithful souls who also carry their crosses out of love for Him.  He sees the weak and lost, too, but He also knows that the only possible way for us to be united with Him in Heaven is by His own, personal sacrifice.

Out of suffering is born new life in Christ.

Station 12: Jesus Dies on the Cross

Thy glory began on the Cross, not at the Resurrection.” –Plinio Correa de Oliveira

I have heard several theological proposals of the salvation of humanity, many of which begin with the Resurrection.  Most modern Christians would rather forget the violence of the Passion, because it inconveniences their comfortable lives.  To acknowledge – in detail – the inexpressible wounds that afflicted Christ, let alone meditate on them, seems arbitrary.  Why not skip to the most important profession of our faith – the Resurrection?

What a grave mistake to imagine that Jesus’ glory did not begin until He rose from the dead.  It began on the Cross, and perhaps even began at His birth.  He emptied Himself, as we must do, and His death was an offering of life, which was and always will be unsurpassed.  Only after death – of sin, of self, of the world’s allurements, and of the physical body – does Resurrection follow.

We cannot celebrate the Resurrection without encountering the Passion and Crucifixion.  We cannot joyfully acclaim our right to Heaven without first tenderly embracing the Cross.  How can we rightfully rejoice without plunging ourselves first into the sweet wounds of Jesus?  His wounds are those that heal.  In essence, the Resurrection would be null were it not first for the immense gift of the Crucifixion.

Station 13: Jesus is Laid in the Arms of His Mother

She is indifferent to nothing.”  -Plinio Correa de Oliveira

The Sorrowful Mother laments and languishes over her son’s lifeless body.  It is fitting that we conclude the Passion and Death of Jesus with the epilogue of His Mother’s presence.  She is a quiet yet powerful figure throughout the Passion story, following Jesus’ every step and fall.  With every tear of His fragile flesh, her virginal heart, too, is torn and ripped to shreds.

The more closely united to Jesus we become, the more naturally we grow closer to His mother, as well.  The two hearts – Jesus’ Most Sacred and Eucharistic Heart and the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary – beat in union and also bleed in tandem.  While Jesus endures the literal Crucifixion, Our Lady is simultaneously mystically crucified.  What one feels the other shares as nearly as if they are truly one and the same. 

The heart of a mother is always a mystical heart, partaking in her child’s suffering.  Mothers are never bystanders or passersby.  They are always active participants, particularly in heartfelt agony, with every betrayal and heartbreak their children undergo in life. 

Our Lady was devoted to Jesus in his life and death, and her love compels her to hearken to our woes and needs.  She is not a peripheral figure in Biblical history, as many would claim, but rather she is steadfastly engaging our hearts to lean toward the Heart of her Son.  She encourages us, comforts and ameliorates our woundedness.  She embraces us with the heart of a mother.  She invites us to open our own hearts in the same love that enveloped the crucified Jesus on that Good Friday afternoon.

Station 14: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

In the eyes of many today, the possibilities of a full restoration of everything…seems irremediably entombed as Our Lord seemed to the apostles.”  -Plinio Correa de Oliveira     

The tomb is a place of dormancy, a place of waiting.  Death had apparently conquered life the day Jesus died and was laid to rest in the tomb.  In their despondency, the apostles accepted this logic.  They did not question or analyze it. 

The tomb seems to beckon us toward recalling the importance of spiritual latency, which is contrary to spiritual laxity.  What lies latent still remains active, though quiet and hidden.  The tomb was a place of invisible activity, and so must our hearts be as tombs awaiting the eternal promise of the Resurrection.

Do we wait in joyful hope?  Do we prepare our hearts as tombs for Christ – a resting place, a place of waiting for God’s impeccable timing?  Is our joy found in the periods of waiting in our lives?  Do we wait with earnest expectation, or do we wait with impatience and distraction?

Let us await the Resurrection with the latent hope found in the tomb where Jesus lay.

Are you praying the stations of the cross this Lent?