This article is by Gary Jansen, author of Station to Station: An Ignatian Journey through the Stations of the Cross.
On Good Friday, 1991, Pope John Paul II introduced an alternative way to pray the Stations of the Cross. Foregoing some of the traditional scenes that are not found in the Bible (e.g., Veronica wipes the face of Jesus), this new approach to the centuries-old devotion allowed believers to engage in the mysteries of Christ’s Passion in a way that was based entirely on Scripture (for instance, the inclusion of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, which is not found in the original meditation).
Though I grew up on the traditional Stations, I’ve developed a great love for the scriptural Stations over the last few years. They not only help me during difficult times, they help me to know Jesus better through the Bible. My book, Station to Station, is a product of that devotion. What I find so intriguing and heartfelt about this version of the sacred mysteries is that as much as these Stations focus on Jesus’ Passion, they also offer us 14 distinct ways Jesus responds to suffering. Hence, the Scriptural Stations of the Cross isn’t just a spiritual exercise, it is also a guide to living a life with integrity and character. When Jesus was frightened, what did he do? Freak out? Nope. He prayed. When he was tortured? He forgave. When he was abandoned by his friends? He accepted their flaws. He didn’t condemn Peter when he denied him. No, he made him the rock of his Church. Dying on the Cross, Jesus didn’t think about himself, he thought of his mother and his family.
How do we respond when we find ourselves in difficult situations?
The Ignatian exercise of using the imagination to engage with Scripture is a perfect way to learn more about Jesus’ responses to suffering and our responses as well. More than any other event in the Bible, Jesus’ Passion has been depicted in thousands of paintings, illustrations, sculptures, and movies. These images can be a helpful way of placing ourselves in the presence of Christ.
Here is one simple exercise that you can do at your desk or with the help of your phone:
Do a Web search for an image of one scene from the Stations of the Cross. Find a picture that resonates with a difficulty you might be experiencing now. Maybe you feel betrayed by a friend, so you pick a scene where Judas hands Jesus over to the Roman authorities. Look at the image closely. Look at the colors. Look at the expressions on the faces of those present. Look at the background and see if you notice anything in particular. Maybe there is an angel near Jesus that symbolizes God’s presence. Maybe a dark spirit is near Judas. Then close your eyes and picture yourself in that image. Maybe you take on the role of Jesus. If you were Jesus, how would you feel at that moment? Is your heart breaking, or do you feel at peace? How do you respond to the situation? What words do you say to Judas? Are you sad? Frightened? Allow those thoughts and emotions to flow freely for a minute, and then open your eyes. Make the Sign of the Cross, and carry that experience with you throughout the day. Think about what happened in your mind, but also ponder the scene in your heart. Allow the sacred mystery to dwell inside you. Allow that sacred mystery to guide you in your life.
Applying the lessons of the Stations
Many Catholics like to pray the Stations of the Cross as a Lenten devotion, but have you ever discussed the experience of the Stations with others? Download a free set of questions for private reflection or group discussion. These questions are appropriate for adult faith formation groups or older students. Gather your catechists or teachers together to discuss the Stations before praying the devotion in the parish. Invite your teen group to reflect on some of the questions before leading the Living Stations. Or provide copies in the pews for parishioners to consider during a weekly experience of the Stations of the Cross. Help those you serve apply the lessons of the Stations to their own lives.
Gary Jansen is the author of several books, including Station to Station: An Ignatian Journey through the Stations of the Cross and The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life. A popular lecturer and commentator, Jansen has appeared on A&E, the Sundance Channel, the Travel Channel, CNN.com, and NPR. He and his family live in New York.