In his book, Station to Station: An Ignatian Journey through the Stations of the Cross, author Gary Jansen tells the story of a noted psychologist who asked an audience, “If I squeeze an orange, what comes out?” After a hesitation, one person shouted out, “Orange juice!” The psychologist responded, “Orange juice. Yes. Why?” Again, after a hesitation, one person answered, “Because that’s what’s inside the orange.” The psychologist affirmed that and said, “We could say the juice is the orange’s essence.” The psychologist then asked, after a short pause, “So what comes out of you when someone puts the squeeze on you?” Jansen follows up the story by asserting that how we respond to life—our attitudes, values, and patterns of behavior—expresses who we are: it reveals our essence.
St. Ignatius and the order he established—the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits)—speak of the need for a “way of proceeding” in all that we do, meaning that there are certain attitudes, values, and patterns of behavior that are to guide us and that we are to be known by (thus the phrase from the song “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love”). Attitudes, values, and patterns of behavior don’t just happen; they are taught. During Lent, the Stations of the Cross can serve as a powerful tool for teaching us a “way of proceeding.” In Station to Station, Gary Jansen proposes that we look at and reflect on the Stations of the Cross as a primer for how Jesus responded when he faced his most difficult challenge: the suffering that culminated in his Crucifixion. By reflecting on the Stations of the Cross by way of various Ignatian exercises, Jansen proposes that we can learn to respond more as Jesus would when we face life’s challenges.
I find this approach to the Stations of the Cross to be very helpful. Too often, we approach this devotion as an exercise in making ourselves feel bad for all that Jesus did for us, thus motivating us to show him a bit more gratitude as though “we owe him one,” when, in reality, it is meant to serve as a teaching tool for learning and integrating the essence of Christ into our own being. You might consider using Jansen’s book, Station to Station, during Lent for your own reflection, for a small group book discussion, or to assist you in creating guided reflections or Living Stations for those you teach.
During this Lenten season, let’s reflect on what comes “out of us” when life squeezes us and pray that our way of proceeding will be recognized as worthy of the label, “disciple of Jesus.”