This past Friday, I was given the opportunity to lead people in the Stations of the Cross. The devotion was held at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, in downtown Beverly, MA. The church is old, big, the interior cavernous. Even with the lights on, it seemed dark inside. The old furnace has a hard time heating the church, so there was a bit of a chill in the air. We had about 30 individuals attending the service. I came out into the sanctuary, dressed in my alb and purple deacon stole. And for the first time, a wireless microphone; the interior of St. Mary’s soaks up sound, even my loud voice. I invited those in the pews to join me in walking the Way the Cross; after a short prayer, we began.
This devotion has a long history. Most scholars credit the Franciscan Friars with establishing the Way of the Cross in its present form. The Franciscans had already been given responsibility for the Holy Places in the Holy Land, by the Pope. In Jerusalem, the friars would lead pilgrims through the streets, along the route Jesus would have walked to Calvary. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Franciscans in other countries began to set up outdoor shrines, imitating the places (or stations) where Jesus would have stopped on His way to His crucifixion. Later, they requested, and received papal permission to set up Stations of the Cross in their churches. It was not long afterward, that Rome extended that permission to bishops who wished to also set up Stations in their own churches.
The Way of the Cross is a devotion that helps us Christians to remember that Jesus, though the Son of God, was also human; that for Him, the Way of the Cross was a journey into suffering and death. Realizing this, as I walked and prayed each of the Stations, I found myself entering into a different spiritual space, a solemn space, a sorrowful space. Sorrowful, because I was sensing the pain and suffering that Jesus went through for us. For us, He was willing to empty Himself totally, give all that He had on the Cross, so that we would be freed from the power of sin and death. How often do we forget that? The Way of the Cross helps us to remember.
The devotion also reminds us that if we decide to follow Christ, we follow Him everywhere, even to Calvary. If we follow Him, it means that we are willing to empty ourselves in service to Him, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. First to empty ourselves of our selfishness, our pride, our self-centeredness, anything that gets in our way of loving God and others. Then we empty ourselves of our talents, our skills for the sake of Christ, and the world. It is not easy; it can be very hard and painful. Still, Jesus Christ calls us to follow; but if we answer that call, we can be assured that we will not be alone on this journey. Christ assures us that though the journey may be full of suffering, Easter dawn awaits.
After the Station where Jesus in laid in the tomb, I walked to a large bas relief in the church. It portrays the Resurrection, and standing before it, I read a passage from the Gospel of Luke (24: 1-8), where the women find the empty tomb. And two men appear before them and announce: “He is not here; he has arisen!” On that note of hope, I stood before altar, and blessed those who are in the church, turned and bowed before the Eucharistic Presence in the tabernacle, and left the sanctuary.