I’m not good at praying the Stations of the Cross. It’s kind of a surprising thing. One of my favorite things about the Catholic faith is uniting suffering with Jesus on the cross, which leads to the really revolutionary concept that suffering can be redemptive. Conceptually, I can think about Jesus’s pain and subsequent conquering of death. But when I actually pray the Stations, I have trouble fully understanding them and entering into that suffering. For some reason, the words and the images just don’t combine in my mind in a way that brings me there with Jesus as He carries His cross to Calvary to be crucified. Over the years, I feel like I have been able to pray about the Passion better on my own, outside of the structure of the Stations. It’s worth noting that I only really tried praying them on Good Friday.
This year, a friend invited me to the Stations at our church. The church is a Eucharistic shrine, not a parish, and it has continuous exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I wondered how that would work for the Stations. The answer: better than I could have expected. The Blessed Sacrament remained exposed the whole time, and the result was a congregation of people following Jesus along the path to his death as we yet looked at Him, humble and triumphant in the host.
It was a juxtaposition I never would have thought of, but one that was striking. We prayed and read that Jesus was condemned to death; He shone, risen, in the monstrance. We walked with Jesus as He carried the cross and fell once, twice, three times; He looked back at us, having ascended to the Father’s right hand. We knelt as Jesus died on the cross; even still, He remained with us in the church having triumphed over death and redeemed us. As we followed Him along the Way of the Cross, we knew the ending, and the ending was staring us in the face. But that didn’t make it any less essential for us to walk that same path.
When we left the Stations, my friend asked me what I had thought of it. I told him I liked it, but I felt that there was so much more I needed to understand. I hadn’t come close to skimming the surface of feeling Jesus’s pain and suffering. This time, it was not just because my prayer was distracted, but because I was looking at the redemption. The difference now, though, was that praying the Stations felt more like a beginning than a personal failure. I know I have more to learn and understand. But I also believe that we never really can understand the full extent of Jesus’s suffering, nor are we supposed to. If we truly believe in Jesus as our savior, then we need to let go of the idea of ourselves as saviors. We will never take on the sins of the whole world–we are not called to, and Jesus has done it already.
Even still, moving into Holy Week, I need to continue praying the Stations and understanding Jesus’s suffering in whatever way I can. I’ll never fully understand it, but getting as close as I can will make His sacrifice that much more meaningful to me on the level of my distracted intellect. As for the spiritual level, the graces that come from that sacrifice are inestimable.