Stations of the Cross

By Fr. Brian Van Fossen
Campus Chaplain

When I was asked to write an article for The Wood Word on Lent and Social Justice I was very excited, and a touch nervous. Two major issues brought together in a succinct article that hopefully will be informative and not boring is not an easy task. I needed time to think and reflect and pray; but as we all know, the world does not provide a great deal of that time. So I prayed for a snow day. And here I am, sitting at my computer, snowing outside and school’s cancelled. Ah, the power of prayer!

So when we think of the Season of Lent we may have a certain set of imagines: Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, Stations of the Cross, Lenten Meals, no meat Fridays, purple, resolutions (“What did you give up for Lent?”), and the acts of prayer, fasting and alms giving. But why are these things done? What purpose do they serve? Who made these up anyway?

Well the story starts at about the second half of the first century ante Dominum (AD). The early Christians were challenged by St. Paul in his letter to Corinth. They were divided with one person following Paul, another Apollos, another Cephas, and others Christ. (1Cor 1:11-13) They were also divided, not only on political realms but also on finances as well. For when these early Christians gathered together for Eucharist some would flaunt their economic gain while others were left to wallow in poverty. (1Cor 11:17-22) St. Paul, St. Peter and the entire Church realized that this is not the way Christ has called us to be. Rather, Christ died so that we can know the love of God and the unity found within that love. This is all found in the Stations of the Cross.

When Jesus embraced the cross he embraced all its suffering. He knew full well that this was an instrument of ridicule for the Jews and torture for the Romans. This instrument, however, was also that which unites Him to all of humanity’s suffering. The suffering of ridicule, abandonment, physical, emotional, psychological and yes even spiritual pain were all embraced on that cross. He fell three times on that road to Golgotha. This path of love was not without stops and starts. It was a process of unity not just a single event. Finally, coming to the end of the journey, Jesus demonstrated the fullness of that unity through His death. This was also a process of forgiveness. For the unity which Christ espoused was a unity for His enemies as well.

In the context of social justice we do not fight – we embrace. We embrace the sufferings of others as our own. Through this loving embrace we share their suffering and help to carry their cross, just as Simon from Cyrene. Simon did not take over Jesus’ cross; rather, he helped to carry it. Through this loving embrace we comfort those who suffer. In a world that dismisses the poor, that divides love, that kills the vulnerable, we reach out as Veronica did and demonstrate love in the face of adversity. We travel this path, not alone, but as a family. Demonstrated by the presence of Mary, the Mother of God, and the women and children of Jerusalem, the suffering of one person is a suffering of a family of persons. Finally, through this loving embrace we share the pain of death for those who die from hunger, lack of shelter, lack of medical care, abortion, euthanasia, war and so many atrocities again human life. We do not die. We LIVE to share the story and to forgive.

We do not eat meat on Fridays throughout the year, but especially during Lent, to share with those who cannot afford meat. We celebrate Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, St. Joseph’s Day and other celebrations to provide hope that we are not destined for death and suffering but for life, love and family. We come for ashes on Ash Wednesday, wear purple, and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation realizing that we sometimes add to the sufferings of life through our actions or our lack of actions. We give alms, give up something that we really do not need for Lent, fast from foods, drinks and behaviors and share in Lenten Meals so that we realize that it is not the things of life that matter but the people. We pray, whether daily prayer, celebrating the Holy Mass, reading Scripture, praying the Rosary or Divine Mercy, because we realize that we cannot do any major change by our own power. Rather, it is through the cross of Christ that the world is united under an act of unselfish love. We follow the Stations of the Cross so that we may not forget the cost of the love and unity which brings the world together.

When we were in grade school we learned to look for the lowest common denominator in a mathematical equation. In life we look for the lowest common denominator among humanity to see where we start. “The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.” (Lk 22:26) Why do we start there? For when we start at the least among us, we are then able to climb the hill of Calvary together in order for the entire world to approach that resurrection. A Happy, Blessed and Fruit-filled Lent!