The Way of the Cross
by Msgr. Roger J. Scheckel, Spiritual Advisor to the Marian Catechist Apostolate
A daily spiritual exercise of the Consecrated Marian Catechist is the Way of the Cross. Some prospective Catechists have expressed misgivings concerning their being able to be faithful to a daily commitment. They fear that they will not be able to set aside enough time in their day to carry out this devotion of our Faith. Such a concern indicates a desire to be truly committed to the expectations involved with consecration, however it may also indicate a limited understanding in how the Way of the Cross can be made.
It is true that ordinarily, the Way of the Cross is made in a church where the stations are usually located on an interior wall. Too, the Stations of the Cross are sometimes erected outdoors, near a shrine for example or at a cemetery. While it is encouraged to utilize those stations that have been erected for public devotion, it is not necessary to do so. The devotion can be made in one’s home, at one’s place of work, or during a time of leisure, provided one has before them a visual representation of each of the stations.
As I write this article, I have in front of me a pocket-sized Way of the Cross from Barton-Cotton Publishers that has fourteen tiny representations of each of the stations accompanied by a short meditation. Such a presentation makes the daily devotion more attainable in terms of time and place. In terms of meditation on each of the mysteries or stations of our Lord’s Passion, nothing more is needed “than a pious meditation on the Passion and Death of the Lord, which need not be a particular consideration of the individual mysteries of the stations.” (Pocket Catholic Dictionary, by Father John A. Hardon, S.J., page 419.) Always seeking to avoid a minimal approach, the Marian Catechist should know that this devotion may be prayed in a short period of time and outside a church.
The Way of the Cross has an eminent place in the history of Catholic devotional life. In all likelihood, it was observed by the early Christians, in Jerusalem, on or near the actual route (Via Dolorosa) from the palace of Pontius Pilate to Our Lord’s place of burial. During the Moslem occupation of the Holy Land, in the late Middle Ages, Christians were prevented from visiting Jerusalem. As a consequence of this impediment, a custom arose whereby various stations of our Lord’s Passion, Death and Burial were erected in churches where the faithful might have the means to “walk” with Our Lord during His Passion.
The heart of the Way of the Cross is to spend time with our Lord spiritually during the most difficult, as well as, the most fruitful hours of His earthly ministry. There is a unique intimacy that is experienced in this devotion, in that Christ invites us to come close to Him and share in that which is uniquely private, i.e., someone else’s sufferings. It is often the case that, when experiencing suffering in whatever form it might take, a person is selective as to whom he or she allows to be close to him or her during that time. If, and when a suffering person permits us to come close to him or her, we should realize the privilege in which we participate. While, at times, it can be difficult to be with someone who is experiencing intense suffering, particularly when it is known that it will soon lead to death, nonetheless, we are a better person for having been with that person. When we accompany a friend in their suffering, we often experience within ourselves a compassion and gentleness that we may never have before realized.
Something similar happens, on a spiritual plane, when we walk from station to station with Our Lord in His suffering unto death. Our Lord welcomes us to accompany Him during His most vulnerable moments on earth. He welcomes our companionship, our compassion, and friendship. As a consequence, our hearts are made larger and deeper for loving God, and others, after we have walked with Our Lord in His Passion.
There is another dimension to the Way of the Cross which is equally necessary for growth in our spiritual lives, but less agreeable to us than what has already been mentioned, namely, the realization that our actual sins are the author for Our Lord’s suffering. Christians possess, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 598, “the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus.” In this same paragraph, the following quote appears from the Roman Catechism which makes explicit the relationship between our sins and Our Lord’s Passion and Death.
“We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for He is in them) and hold Him up to contempt. And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, ‘None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.’ We, however, profess to know Him. And when we deny Him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on Him.”
The Way of the Cross is a spiritually sobering experience. This devotion, more than perhaps any other, encourages us to reflect on our sinfulness; not so that we become morbid and discouraged, but rather, so that we develop within ourselves an abhorrence of all sin, and gain an ever deeper resolve to refrain from it, including its near occasion.
One of the very best means, in the devotional life, for ongoing conversion is the Way of the Cross. When carried out devoutly, it accomplishes the two-fold dynamic of all authentic conversion: a turning away from sin, and a turning toward our Lord in an ever- deeper union. This is why it is particularly recommended during the season of Lent, but also why it can and should be done every day.
Originally published in The Tilma, Spring 2002