EVERYONE’S WAY OF THE CROSS

For years now I’ve carried a little laminated prayer card in my purse. The front features a tiny, hokey, color picture of each of the Stations.

On the back are instructions:

The following is said before each station: We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You, because by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.’” 

That’s hardly the only “formula.” A quick google search turns up a plethora of pamphlets—“Mary’s Way of the Cross,” “Praying the Stations with Pope Francis,” Clarence Enzler’s “Everyone’s Way of the Cross.”

The form of the Stations themselves can vary, too: from statues to plaques to small figures carved from wood. They can be inside or outside. I once prayed the Stations at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Massachusetts, on a shaded allée leading down to the ocean, got bitten by a tick, and contracted Lyme Disease. 

Of course we can pray the Stations throughout the year. But to my mind the best way is with the random group of people who gather in any given sanctuary on a Friday afternoon during Lent.

There’s always an old guy who can barely walk and who reverently, laboriously, genuflects all fourteen times. There’s often a giggly teenage girl or two, and a person who lives on the street. There might be a man with a gigantic crucifix around his neck and an American flag pin, a couple who drove in from the suburbs, a fierce-looking middle-aged woman in running gear.   

People gather in some rough form of a group. A few sit in a pew. A few straggle behind.

“Jesus is condemned to death.” Here we go.

“Jesus bears his cross.” I once read that the road to Calvary was a third of a mile. That’s a long, long way when you’ve been up all night—hungry, thirsty, exhausted—and have just been scourged.

“Jesus falls the first time.”  I’m having a little trouble kneeling myself these days. Grateful for this rail to grasp.

 “Jesus meets his mother.” “Do what he tells you.”

“Jesus is helped by Simon.” “I no longer call you servants; I call you friends.”

“Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.” I wonder if she knew to save the sacred hankie. Must look up “Veronica’s veil.” But will probably forget.

“Jesus falls a second time.” Seven down, seven to go.

The Eighth Station: “Jesus speaks to the women.” “Don’t weep for me,” he tells them, “weep for your children.” We are weeping now. Imagine inviting a six-year-old to question whether he or she has been born into the “right” body.

Jesus falls a third time. Barbarians! Did they really have to make him carry the instrument of his own execution?

The Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments. Only four more to go. No problem. I’m really going to start paying attention now.

The Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross. Oh I hate this, do we have to? Impossible to imagine the pain, the shock, the descent into an abyss…no, I can’t even go there. Plus my right foot’s falling asleep.

The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross. We pause. But obviously, no pause could be long enough, reverent enough, sorrowful enough. We feel awful about all this, Jesus. We really do.

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken from the cross. Now Mary receives the body of Christ, delivering him to the altar upon which all humankind is called to worship.

The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb. Phew. We did it. Thank you.

For half an hour, we have formed a miniature Mystical Body; instinctively, we converge in a rough semicircle for the final prayer: Heavenly Father, you delivered your Son to the death of the cross to save us from evil. Grant us the grace of the resurrection. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then we make the sign of the cross, helpfully hand in our booklets to the lady who’s been leading, avert our eyes, and shuffle off to go our separate ways.

If the others are anything like me, they feel they haven’t put quite enough heart into it. They’re asking themselves, Why did I keep thinking about dinner and where the restrooms might be?

Then again, where else in the world, what other venue, what alternate activity, could attain to the weird, serendipitous glory of praying together with a group of people with whom you have nothing in common except a shared love for Christ?

Outside, in the blinding sunlight, I check my phone. The war in Ukraine rages on. Someone slapped someone across the face at the Oscars. A reader has emailed saying she’s lonely, exhausted, tired, and afraid: do I have any suggestions?  

Let me to your love be taken,
Let my soul in death awaken
To the joys of Paradise.

4 Replies to “EVERYONE’S WAY OF THE CROSS”

  1. Wonderful piece thank you! And one that I think could equally speak to all our devotions and prayers. However much we enter with the best of intentions, those distractions and wandering thoughts chirp away like annoying birds and at times – as often described in Buddhist texts – becomes a whole tree full of loud monkeys demanding our attention.

    And goodness knows I am not the only one who will suddenly jolt back to the rosary or missal in hand and feel terrible pangs of guilt about how easily my mind has become deeply engrossed in matters that really do not matter. Especially at that moment when before my eyes are matters literally of Heaven and salvation. The most glorious and life giving of stories ever told and there I am worrying about whether I’ll have time to empty the dishwasher later. Hello, old fallen friend….

    But then as all the contemplative traditions reassure us, nobody ever said that it would be easy! And quietening the mind is a life long challenge. So it really is such a blessing – especially as we enter the great Feast – to read an article like this and remember that we truly are not alone in this effort. That we are all in the same boat but as we know, so is Christ and even when He appears to be asleep, we never know when He might spring up and hush the storms that beset us!

    And it’s an often quoted almost cliched piece of advice about prayer – not that by the way there is anything wrong with a cliche if it’s true! – but the old line about most of it being about just turning up is indeed true. Something that this article reaffirms wonderfully. And I am sure I am not the only one who after laboriously struggling through my rosary will still find the most contradictory of feelings at the end of it all, summed up by the line “That was pretty awful….let’s do it again tomorrow!” And with that is encapsulated the craziness of my spiritual journey I guess….

    But of course again as you point out Heather, importantly we don’t do it alone. As another much quoted line goes: what is the Church but “here comes everyone”? And it’s in the company of everyone, this rag tag pilgrim band walking a rocky distracted and circuitous route, that often without even noticing, we are walking with Our Lord Himself. And sometimes when we least expect it, our hearts will burn within us again at what we discover together.

    And with that hope, I pray that we can all find many such blessings along the way this Holy Week and into the great season of Eastertide ahead!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Beautiful, yes! Fr. Ron Rolheiser writes a lot about this. He once pointed out that a hurried and “mindless” kiss goodbye or hello between husband and wife is a world apart from no kiss at all, and in fact that kiss was a strong predictor/indicator, pursuant to some study, of a long-lasting, faithful marriage. In a recent column, he quoted the counself of a spiritual advisor who had once told him, “If you can’t pray anything else, pray one truly sincere Our Father a day. After all, that’s the prayer Jesus taught us.” (paraphrase). Deep thanks and wishing you a blessed and holy Good Friday.

  2. Thank you for being the one among us to raise your hand and answer truthfully. Yes, this is our experience. We are wacky, faithful, wildly diverse in the Catholic church. And thanks be to God. You’re the best Heather! I’m sure that many people feel as I do after reading your blog, that it is OK that I am human, and God in His mercy loves us all anyway.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Aw thanks, Sonja…yes, our humanity always comes as a shock, and that we’re loved in our weaknesses is a scandal! And where else would we go?….Easter blessings to you!

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