How to walk with Jesus: Praying the Stations of the Cross can radically change your life
Gary Jansen Feb. 8, 2018
“Squish! Just like grape.” — Mr. Miyagi, “The Karate Kid.”
Imagine you hold a single grape in the palm of your hand. Now, slowly make a fist, apply pressure and squeeze. What happens? The skin breaks and juice runs down your hand. Why does juice run down your hand? Because that’s what’s inside the grape.
Question: What comes out of us when the world grips us in its hand, applies pressure and squeezes? What comes out of us when we have a bad day at work or school? When someone cuts us off on the highway? When someone cheats us or talks badly about us? When someone threatens us and our way of life? What comes out of us? Anger? Fear? Hatred? Thoughts of revenge?
Another question: What came out of Jesus when the world put him to the test, when all the fears, angers, hatreds of the world collectively wrapped its heavy hands around him and squeezed him into death? What came out of Jesus?
There was blood and water, but there was also strength, courage, humility, love, compassion and forgiveness.
Just as we can learn what is in a grape when we squeeze it, and just as we can learn more about who we are when we pay attention to how we react to the challenges we face, we can learn more about Jesus by reflecting on what came out of him during the most intense period of his life. And not just learn but use those lessons as a springboard to change our lives. One of the best ways to do this is through the Stations of the Cross, in particular the Scriptural Stations of the Cross.
This alternative version of the classic devotion is composed of 14 events that follow Jesus from the hours after the Last Supper until his crucifixion and entombment.
Unlike the form popularized by the Franciscans in the 13th and 14th centuries, which contained a mixture of Bible-based episodes and traditional stories, this relatively new version is based solely on Scripture, allowing the reader to reflect on Christ’s passion specifically through the word of God.
But the scriptural stations is more than a simple act of piety or a Bible-based meditation. It is a portrait of grace under pressure, an illustration of specific reactions from Jesus during times of crisis.
In our current age of global terrorism, economic uncertainty, widespread and severe depression and anxiety, and environmental devastation, the stations offer us an opportunity to learn to respond to the worst of the world as Jesus did.
St. Ignatius asks us to seek God in all things. But in the Stations of the Cross, this can be challenging. God seems to be missing. As Jesus makes his journey through the way of sorrows, we witness him at his most human.
There are no miracles here in this version of the stations. No sudden healings. No casting out of demons. No parables. Someone coming to the story of Jesus’ passion for the first time, not knowing anything else of the Gospels, would think that this Jesus is just an ordinary person, someone who experienced loneliness, heartache, pain, exhaustion and ultimately death.
He’s no different from any of us. There’s nothing extraordinary here, a newcomer might think, except the amount of abuse leveled against this man, and his determination to die with dignity.
As we journey through the scriptural stations, we witness Jesus’ subordination. We want him to take action, to fight back, to proclaim his glory. Nothing like that happens here. He never lifts a finger against anyone and he barely speaks. Yet, what seems like acquiescence is the epitome of active faith.
His acceptance of his fate, the forgiveness that follows and the nonviolence he exudes in the face of extreme aggression are nonetheless revolutionary. Jesus’ response to suffering provides first-century countercultural insight on how to live justly and counterculturally in the tumultuous 21st-century world.
Let’s look quickly at each station and Jesus’ response:
1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prays.
2. Jesus, betrayed by Judas, is arrested. He stays calm.
3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin. He is steadfast.
4. Jesus is denied by Peter. He accepts others’ weaknesses.
5. Jesus is judged by Pilate. He remains quiet.
6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns. He endures pain.
7. Jesus bears the cross. He accepts responsibility.
8. Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross. He allows others to help.
9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. He thinks of others.
10. Jesus is crucified. He loves.
11. Jesus promises his kingdom to the good thief. He forgives.
12. Jesus speaks to his mother and the disciple. He watches over his family.
13. Jesus dies on the cross. He weeps.
14. Jesus is placed in the tomb. He surrenders.
What do these events from Christ’s passion tell us? Many things, but one of the most striking is that the scriptural stations and the Passion give us instruction on how to respond to the loneliness, heartache, pain and exhaustion as they occur in our own lives.
Tough as it is, we are called to seek God in all these very human things — in suffering, sadness, loss, disappointments and failures — these broken places and vacant rooms where we think God is absent.
In the dehumanization of modern times, with terrorism, racial strife, cultural upheaval and shootings seemingly all around us, how are we to find God in the midst of all this chaos, anger and sadness?
The answer is a most difficult one. Yet the Stations of the Cross can provide a path that is at once practical and mystical. Journeying in the presence of Jesus at his most human does something to us spiritually: It shifts our consciousness and shines a light on the state of our own humanness.
When we are put to the test, do we pray, stay calm, have faith and love? When we’re honest, our answers lift us up, not on a cross, but into the arms of Jesus. In that embrace we can be transformed in ways that make us better people and ultimately better prepared to live out the Gospel.
Gary Jansen is the author of “Station to Station: An Ignatian Journey Through the Stations of the Cross.”