by Father Mark Goldasich
I always enjoyed school. However, that didn’t mean I was opposed to getting out early.
When I was in grade school, we got out of school early every Lenten Wednesday and Friday. By “got out,” I don’t mean that we were free to go home. No, we all trooped down to church to recite the Stations of the Cross together.
My memory might be a bit hazy, but I remember using a small, special children’s version of the Stations that had a red cover. As our parish priests and some servers carrying candles and a special Lenten cross moved from Station to Station down the center aisle, we followed along in our books from the pews.
One Station that particularly irritated the nuns was the ninth one: Jesus falls the third time. As we kids read “our parts” in the book, there were slash marks (/) throughout the text that helped us to better read as a cohesive whole. During the ninth Station’s meditation, there was some sort of question, asking if Jesus chose not to get up after that third fall.
Only two words appeared between the slashes in answer to that question: “But no!” Much to the dismay of the nuns, we usually shouted out that line: “BUT NO!” It was not unusual to see our teacher shake her head then and let out an exasperated “tsk.” (Yeah, that never stopped us.)
I was often tapped to serve the adult Stations held in the evening on Lenten Wednesdays (in English) and Fridays (in Croatian). Serving gave me plenty of time to study each of the depictions of the Stations, especially the twelfth, with its threatening sky as Jesus died and “ghostly” saints rose from their tombs in the background.
Many years later in 1980, I was able to walk the Via Dolorosa (Sorrowful Way) in Jerusalem. It’s an incredible experience that most Christians over the centuries have not been able to do. As I’m sure you’re aware, that’s the origin of the Stations in our churches: to give everyone an opportunity in a spiritual way at least to walk along with Jesus from his condemnation by Pilate to his being placed in the tomb.
By the way, the word “Stations” was coined by William Wey, an English pilgrim to the Holy Land in 1462. The word denotes a “stop or standing” at “each of a number of holy places visited in succession by pilgrims” (Online Etymology Dictionary).
There are many versions of praying the Stations available, but my favorite is definitely “Everyone’s Way of the Cross” by Clarence Enzler. This booklet is set up as a dialogue between Christ and the “pray-er.” The introduction and the conclusion to the Stations begin with “Christ speaks,” as do each of the Stations. The response of the “pray-er” is indicated by “I reply.”
Throughout the Stations, Christ refers to the “pray-er” as “my other self” and links in a practical way how he or she can live out each of the Stations today. For instance, at the fourth Station, where Jesus meets his mother, the “pray-er” replies in part: “To watch the pain of those we love is harder than to bear our own. To carry my cross after you, I, too, must stand and watch the sufferings of my dear ones — the heartaches, sicknesses, and grief of those I love. And I must let them watch mine, too.”
Each Station also features a simple, black-and-white illustration from modern life coordinated to the Station. Illustrators Annika Nelson and Gertrud Mueller Nelson provide stunning depictions that are in themselves worthy of meditation.
If you’ve never been to Stations of the Cross or if it’s been a while, get thee to a church to participate in this Lenten devotion at least once. Let Christ show you how his “way of the cross two thousand years ago and your ‘way’ now are also one.”