NOT LONG AFTER THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION of Jesus, Christians returned to the places where events of particular meaning took play in the story of His suffering, death and burial on Good Friday. They returned out of love, to be near Jesus by visiting these spots or stations - not unlike the couple, still in love after many years, returning again and again to the places which formed their love: the place where they met, where a proposal of marriage was offered, a first home, a vacation spot...
As Christianity spread throughout Europe, a desire to frequent these Good Friday spots was felt deeply. The Middle Ages being a time of profound religious fervor, Crusaders brought back from the Holy Land the idea of walking these stations or stopping points and re-creating them at home. And so the Christian walking from station to station went on a kind of pilgrimage with meditations, prayers and hymns to recall the sacred events.
The Stations of the Cross reflect the Christian imagination through image and movement. The meditations and pictures offered here each day during Lent (beginning this Wednesday) hope to contribute to that rich aspect of spiritual heritage. But I prefer to call the devotion The Way of the Cross, as the word way seems to emphasize a more active dynamic calling forth something new in the life-style of the disciple.
The suffering and sacrificial death of Jesus is unique of course. It is God's method so that we would not be lost to God by our own folly. So the Christian does not view life's suffering, pain and sorrow as wasted, a burden to be minimized by pharmacist, food, shopping or sex spree, tavern, club or drug deal - but to be even embraced! This is a stumbling block for many, maybe most people today.
Each of us has a Way of the Cross to walk: life being full of challenges, stumblings, burdens, tears, fears, sickness, calamity and letting go. Along this way I am to discover God's presence and what it is that God wants me to hear, to know. Above all, I am to discover how I might change. Indeed the Way of the Cross understood this way, dying so to grow and live in newness, is so integral to Christianity that is is dignified with the title: Paschal Mystery.
The word mystery doesn't mean an impossible puzzle to suffer and solve, a life-sentence of confusion, useless wandering in dilemma, darkness and spiritual despair. But rather, mystery means that God is so near I might miss him - as one is blinded by stepping out into too much morning light or being unable to read a text that is too close to my eyes.
We live in a world of choices: What will I eat? How will I dress? Of the hundreds of channels - which will I view? Who should I call? But among the myriad choices there is, which life-path will I follow? How am I going to put my life together? How will I go, so to discover my meaning, purpose and peace? What discoveries are to be made as life unfolds? The Way of the Cross as life-way requires awareness, perseverance, docility and generosity.
So the meditations we'll share here each day of Lent are not only a presentation of what Jesus did for me, but a reflection upon our own personal way of the cross and our coming to real and full life as an echo of, or participation in Christ's own. Those who follow this way often seem to live lives of serenity, joy and love. I bless your reflections and prayer this Lent.
Father Stephen Morris