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  • Fr. Daniel Okafor

Fr. Daniel's Corner / April 3, 2022

Stations of the Cross

Another feature of the Lenten season is the Stations of the Cross on Fridays which culminates on Good Friday as the high point. However, this spiritual practice is encouraged all through the year, outside of Lent. Christians, through it, participate and share in the passion and agony of Christ, the wounded healer. They are also inspired by his example to learn to carry their cross daily in whatever form and shape. Certainly, we pray the Stations of the Cross and when we go into a church, we are greeted with a wide variety of styles of the stations. It is one of my most memorable experiences growing up in the Southeast region of Nigeria. It is a tradition with a long history.

The tradition dates back to the 11th century when it became popular for Christians to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land. In fact, one of the oldest accounts of a Holy Land pilgrimage is written by a Spanish woman named Egeria. These pilgrims desired to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, particularly, the path of his crucifixion and death (Via Crucis). During the 12th and 13th centuries when it became unsafe to travel to the Holy Land, many churches throughout Europe created an outdoor devotion with stations that depicted the life of Jesus. These stations numbered as few as five and as many as twenty. As the devotion grew in popularity, Pope Clement XII (1730-1740) set the number at 14. It wasn’t until the 18th century that churches began to place the stations on the inside walls. Some of you who are very observant will note that some churches have added a 15th station for the resurrection.

They are as follows: (I) Christ condemned to death; (2) the cross is laid upon Him; (3) His first fall; (4) He meets His Blessed Mother; (5) Simon of Cyrene is made to bear the cross; (6) Christ’s face is wiped by Veronica;(7) His second fall; (8) He meets the women of Jerusalem; (9) His third fall; (10) He is stripped of His garments; (11) His Crucifixion; (12) His death on the cross; (13) His body is taken down from the cross; and (14) laid in the tomb. The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make in spirit, as it were, a pilgrimage to the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death, and this has become one of the most popular of Catholic devotions. It is carried out by passing from Station to Station, with certain prayers at each and devout meditation on the various incidents in turn. When the devotion is performed publicly, it is very common to sing a stanza of the “Stabat Mater” while passing from one Station to the next.

Why pray the stations of the cross, you may ask? Many reasons, but here are some. It gives us a way to make a spiritual pilgrimage, gaining the same indulgence as visiting Jerusalem. Our hearts walk along with Jesus on His final steps as we pray. This plenary indulgence gained, shortens our time in Purgatory. There are a few conditions to receiving this indulgence. First, we must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation and be in a state of grace (detached from sin). We must also receive the Eucharist within that timeline. Next, we pray for the Pope’s intentions. Praying the Stations of the Cross helps inspire deep prayer. God gives us the grace to contemplate the suffering of Jesus and feel deep empathy and love for Him. As we meditate on the events, they become more vivid and take root in our hearts.

Furthermore, we can look at suffering from a different perspective. Our Lord understands our struggles and gives us the grace we need to bear them well. We can learn how to do this from His example. He endured His suffering with patience, dignity, and humility. Jesus never stopped loving, forgiving, and praying for his persecutors. Even though the situation was so intense, He obeyed God’s Will. His response to such an extreme situation was one of love. He endured it for our salvation. From His example, we can learn to love with humility and patience despite our broken world. We learn to hope in the promise of salvation. Christ’s promise of salvation far outweighed the horrors he had to endure. His suffering was redemptive not because it was full of pain but because He endured it with great love. When we unite our struggles with our wounded Savior, we can learn to bear them well. We can find courage and strength in times of difficulty because of His merciful love. We can trust in Him.

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