The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Lenten Reflection: Stations of the Cross

A reflection given at the Stations of the Cross on Friday, March 22.

As we pray the Stations together I suspect that, like me, most of you focus on Jesus and His sufferings. Joining Him on the Way of the Cross, we’re so saddened that our God was treated so abominably. But with this deep sorrow comes joy, the recognition that He did this out of love, that we are loved so greatly. It’s why we call next Friday, “Good Friday.” For it was through His passion, death and resurrection that He brought redemption to a sinful world and, with it, the gift of eternal life. And so I suppose this odd mixture of sorrow and joy is as it should be.

But if our reflection goes no further, if we focus solely on Jesus’ sufferings and our thanksgiving for His act of redemption, then we’ve missed a key element of this devotion. For the Stations of the Cross, like this holy season of Lent, is a call to conversion. It’s a time to examine ourselves and our response to Jesus’ call. Indeed, at each station Jesus pleads with us to reform our lives, to turn away from sin, to accept the Gospel. It’s the same call He proclaimed as He began His public ministry: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Consider the first station. As He is condemned by Pilate, He looks into my heart and your heart and reminds us of the times we have condemned others. It’s the same look He gave Peter in the high priest’s courtyard after His friend had denied Him, betrayed Him, again and again. And we hear Him say to us, “Who are you to condemn? Who are you to exalt yourself above another and confine that child of God, that sister or brother of mine, to the category of human debris?”

Yes, standing there before Pilate, Jesus tells us, “There’s only one Lawgiver and Judge…and it is I, not you! Leave God’s justice to me, and love one another.” Once again He issues the call: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Then we watch as Jesus, for love of us, takes up His cross. Bloodied and beaten, He looks up at us, and if we listen we hear His words:
“…whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
But you and I, as we strive mightily to avoid any kind of cross in our lives, find ourselves alone, unable to accept the burden.

…the burden of a terminal illness

…or the death of a spouse or a child

...or failure, rejection, loneliness or pain, or the memory of our own past sinfulness.

Again Jesus looks at us, again with love, and says:
“I have to do this alone, for that is the Father’s will. But you don’t. You need only ask and I will help carry your burden. Come to me...For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Again, we hear the call to conversion: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

And then Jesus falls. Indeed, He falls three times…and the world simply watches. No one goes to help Him. How often are we just the observers? People fall in a thousand ways all around us – and we do nothing. They hunger, they thirst, they become ill, they’re imprisoned, they’re rejected by others, they’re confined at home…and we watch.

And then we fall…and suddenly you and I know the pain, the pain of absence, the pain of being watched but not helped. Don’t they know what I’m suffering? But He knows. He’s been there. He looks up at us from under the heavy cross and reaches out a wounded hand, a hand larger than the universe itself, and holds you in His forever-pierced palm. And then He speaks, encouraging us, pleading with us to love one another, as He loves us…
“…whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
And so it goes. Every station along that Way of the Cross is a call to conversion. At every point Jesus speaks to us, pleads with us, begs us, calls us to conversion, to holiness. In His Cross we see the ultimate expression of love and the power for overcoming evil. Only God's love and grace can set our hearts and minds free from the tyranny of our own sinfulness.

Pope Francis speaking to the crowd gathered last Sunday in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus, reminded us all of God’s love and mercy:
“God never tires of forgiving,” the Pope said, “but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness. Let us never tire, let us never tire! He is the loving Father who always pardons, who has that heart of mercy for us all. And let us too learn to be merciful to everyone.”
But we must ask for that grace. We must ask for the virtues of mercy and kindness, virtues that spring from a divine heart full of love and forgiveness. We need to discover, grow, and ultimately take responsibility for building the Kingdom right here, right where God has placed us.

Lent is almost over, brothers and sisters. Let’s approach these final days filled with childlike joy, knowing that we’re the cherished children of our Father. We aren’t in charge of our salvation, nor are we the best judges of how much we’re achieving. So let God be God and just go about the work He’s given us to do, that of being His joyful children.

This, I think, is the holiness to which He calls us.

Praised be Jesus Christ.

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