Jesus’ Journey to Calvary
Lent, including Holy Week, should be a time of renewal and growth in our spiritual lives.
Maybe we can find a new lesson in a tried-and-true Lenten devotion, one that holds great depth: the Stations of the Cross. Each Catholic church displays the 14 Stations of the Cross that depict Jesus’ journey to Calvary. Some stations are depicted in ornate paintings; others are plaques. Some are remarkable; others look faded. Yet they all serve as a reminder of the suffering Jesus endured out of love for us.
This year, they can teach us anew: We don’t have to bear our suffering alone.
I was reminded of this as I entered the old city church that I had frequented so many times on a Thursday afternoon: the Church of St. Mark, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
As I gazed around the church, I was struck by something different in these stations; I noticed not the artwork, not the art style, but the people. I realized that the “background” characters were painted as beautifully and detailed as Jesus.
Some of those characters were the villains, illustrated by the taunting of the passersby or the guards that held their torturous whips; others were the heroes present to help Christ, such as Veronica, as she wiped the sweat from Jesus’ eyes.
I realized that each person there played a critical role in Jesus’ suffering. Each person, through their choice in that moment depicted in the station, had the power to either increase or lighten Jesus’ load.
Even more striking is that Christ allowed himself to be helped on his way to Calvary. In the Fifth Station, Jesus allows Simon of Cyrene to help him carry the cross; and in the Sixth Station, he allows Veronica to wipe his face.
I don’t think there’s a coincidence in Simon or Veronica’s being present along the way.
While they didn’t take Jesus’ burdens away, their compassion and help may have made the cross just a little lighter, if even for a moment.
Maybe we can bring this lesson to our own lives this Lent.
How many of those around us could use our help in carrying their cross this season? How many of our closest family or friends bear a burden that we can help make lighter through our actions or prayers?
Or maybe we are the ones who need help carrying our cross, yet we are too afraid to ask.
The stations remind us of the importance of not carrying our cross alone. Will we stand by those closest to us as they bear their crosses, as Mary and John remained by Jesus?
Will we allow ourselves to be comforted by others, as Jesus was by Veronica, recognizing that there is no shame in asking for or receiving help?
Maybe it was my own sufferings and experiences this Lent that made me keen to this realization.
It seems I have done nothing this season but share my suffering with friends, my priest and my family. Yet, every time, they have sat there patiently, listening to me, walking with me.
Carrying this cross with me.
And each time, I have found my cross has felt a bit lighter.
Later that Thursday evening, that same old city church was filled with parishioners — young and old, college students and grandparents, priests and nuns, moms and dads, for a Lenten night of adoration, confession and music.
Their silhouettes were illuminated by the Stations of the Cross on the wall — the stations that had before seemed bleak and bare were now calling attention to the people who stood in front of them.
Each person was there waiting patiently in line for confession, all the while praying and singing; each one carrying their own crosses, burdens and sins.
Yet they all were there, from every walk of life, together.
As Catholics, we are not meant to live our faith alone. As Romans 12:15 teaches us, we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.”
We are meant to live our faith communally, through both the pain and the joy. In our individualistic, self-focused society, sharing other’s burdens is powerful.
So let us be renewed by the Stations of the Cross.
Let us not be like the passersby or the guards, with the opportunity to lighten the load of someone close to us but rejecting it.
Instead, let us be like Mary and John, remaining close to our loved ones and friends in their time of suffering.
Let us ourselves be comforted by the Veronicas in our life, recognizing that we don’t need to be afraid of asking for help.
Let the stations teach us that we do not have to carry our burdens alone — for others and, most importantly, Jesus are with us.