Under the Sign of the Cross
On this second day of Lent, Our Lord sets before us the whole mystery of His Passion, Cross, and Resurrection. Lent opens under the sign of the Cross; the Lenten pilgrimage is the Via Crucis, the way of the Cross. “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised”; (Lk 9:22). The Cross leads straight into the promised land. To choose the Cross is to choose life:
I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendents may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice, and cleaving to Him; for that means life to you and length of days (Dt 30:20).
Not only does Our Lord show us the mystery; He invites us to follow Him into it. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). Just because one is suffering — physically, emotionally, or spiritually — does not mean that one is following Christ along the way of the Cross. Suffering alone is of no value. One who follows Christ along the way of the Cross sees Him infuse agápe, sacrificial love into every moment of His Passion. It is this and nothing else that gives suffering value; it ennobles it, making it precious in the sight of God and redemptive for the world. Agápe, self-giving sacrificial love, draws all the virtues after it: humility, obedience, silence, patience, meekness, fortitude, and mercy. Agápe is the love that pierces the heart with sorrow for sin and inflames it with the desire to make reparation.
The Cross Taken to Heart
How does the Way of the Cross described in today’s Gospel pass from the sacred page into one’s heart so as to find expression in one’s life? What we commonly call devotion to the Passion is simply a way of taking to heart the mystery of the Cross. One expresses in life the things that one has taken to heart. The Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross (or Stations of the Cross) is precisely this: a way of taking to heart the mystery of suffering infused with sacrificial love by which Christ saves us, heals us, and unites us to His work of redemption.
The Way of the Cross
The Church cherishes and recommends the Way of the Cross. She teaches that the Via Crucis is “an exercise of piety particularly adapted for the time of Lent” (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, art. 133). It is a path traced by the Holy Spirit, a path taken by the seraphic Saint Francis and by so many saints in whom burned the words of the spouse in the Canticle: “Draw me after Thee, let us make haste” (Ct 1:4).
Blessed Columba Marmion
Blessed Abbot Marmion was introduced to the daily round of the Stations of the Cross while a seminarian in Ireland. He remained faithful to it all his life, making it every day of the year with only one exception: Easter morning! Abbot Marmion had a long experience of spiritual fatherhood. He knew well that there are moments in every life when lectio divina in the strict sense is a psychological impossibility. He knew also that there are stages in the spiritual journey when it is difficult to anchor ourselves to one spot and persevere in prayer. For these situations, and for countless other trials, the Way of the Cross is an efficacious remedy.
Seek the Face of Christ and His Heart
No vocal prayers are required for the Way of the Cross. It is sufficient to move from one station to the next seeking the suffering Face of Christ and opening oneself to the thoughts of His Heart. The Mother of Sorrows is present every step of the way, teaching us that silence and compassion are among the highest forms of love. The treasury of the Church is rich in the writings of the saints and mystics who, “choosing life”(cf. Dt 30:19) followed the Bridegroom in frequent pilgrimages of the heart from the Cenacle to the garden, and from the garden to the Cross. The meditations written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005, just a few weeks before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, are among the most beautiful I have ever read.
The Way of the Cross becomes a way of life. What are its fruits? The most immediate is the spirit of compunction: awareness of one’s own misery, sorrow for sin, and a readiness to overlook the faults of others. This last point is extremely telling. Blessed Abbot Marmion calls it “an infallible test.” This is what he says:
Are you severe and exacting for others? Are you inclined to be ironical about the defects and failings of your neighbour? Do you draw attention to them without any legitimate reason? Are you quick to take scandal at them? If so, it is a sign that your heart has not been touched or penetrated by the realization of your own wretchedness and of the offences for which God has pardoned you.
Passion of Christ, Break My Heart and Make It Whole
Make the Way of the Cross this Lent and let the Way of the Cross re-make you. Let the Passion of Christ break your heart and then make it whole again in mercy, in sacrificial love, in silence, and in compassion. Moses’ words to Joshua in Deuteronomy are a message for us as we begin the Way of the Cross in all of life: “It is the Lord who goes before you, He will not fail you or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed” (Ct 31:8). He who goes before us on the Way of the Cross waits to give us His Body and Blood in the Holy Sacrifice.