ST. THOMAS MORE CORNER - February 15, 2012

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:22 PM by Web Team
“At the Cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.”

--from the Sequence, “Stabat Mater”
Traditionally sung at the end of the First Station of the Cross

As we enter the penitential season of Lent, there can be but one subject of reflection this month: the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ upon the Cross to forgive our sins and his Resurrection on the third day with its offer of eternal life in Heaven for all human beings. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the signature actions of the season. As to prayer, Catholics traditionally have meditated upon the fourteen Stations of the Cross during Lent, particularly on Fridays. Although many versions of the Stations of the Cross have been published, the gold standard, of course, is the one used at Lenten Friday evening services at St. Sebastian Parish. Members of the Knights of Columbus are certainly encouraged to attend those services.

Nonetheless, the Stations of the Cross remain a private devotion and a practicing Catholic is free to pray them in his or her own words. Although virtually all attempts at doing so by lay people will fall far short of the standard version, there is no reason not to try. And, in making the attempt, a lay person is forced outside the comfort zone of rote prayer and into the less familiar realm of personal meditation whose subject is God.

In that spirit, I composed a set of reflections on the fourteen Stations of the Cross, which are set forth below. Although this set of reflections is, no doubt, amateurish compared with versions written by those with professional theological training, feel free to examine them this Lent if you are so inclined.


First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Death

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

In appearance, Jesus was condemned to death by Pilate, a corrupt government bureaucrat who ordered the crucifixion of a man he knew to be innocent, because it was a politically expedient means of quieting a mob which threatened to spread word that Pilate was tolerating Caesar’s rival within Roman jurisdiction.

Pilate, however, does not warrant the full weight of the condemnation which history, in turn, has assigned to him. It is true that Pilate’s order to crucify Jesus was the most unjust death sentence ever imposed. But to blame Pilate alone for this gross miscarriage of justice inflates his stature and denigrates our own responsibility.

For if each man and woman born into the world had not freely chosen to disgrace the gift of human life by sin, then God the Father would not have faced the terrible decision, out of love, to send his only Son into the world to save it through a sacrificial death. Ultimately, the reason that Jesus stood before Pilate is because I have sinned, you have sinned and every human being except for Jesus’ own Mother has sinned. Pilate, who otherwise would have had no occasion to encounter Jesus, was merely our surrogate in condemning Jesus to death.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.

Second Station: Jesus Accepts the Cross

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

The infinite injustice of the perfectly innocent Son of God being sentenced to death is exceeded only by his infinite love in accepting the burden of our sins in the form of the cross. As disciples of Jesus in an imperfect world, we are called to accept our own crosses in life. When we are tempted to complain that we do not deserve the problems which we confront, we should recall that the Son of God deserved far less to be saddled with the consequences of the sins of all humanity. We must realize that part of loving is to bear another’s burden, even when we have done nothing to cause the difficulty. By definition, the burden of the cross is unfairly visited upon its recipient. May we embrace the burden nonetheless.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.

Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

When Jesus fell the first time on the path to Calvary, it was caused by other’s sins in the form of a weighty cross. When we fall, by contrast, it is usually the result of our own faults, not someone else’s. For Jesus, the road to Calvary was also the path to his Father. Jesus’ first fall only momentarily delayed him from reaching the crucifixion site, dying for our sins, rising from the dead on Easter Sunday and returning to the Father on Ascension Thursday. We humans, on the other hand, face a lifetime of daily falls because of sin. Our progress towards the Father is constantly interrupted or even halted when we surrender to our faults. Jesus’ first fall should remind us to strive to reduce, to the greatest degree humanly possible, the occasions of sin. And, when we do sin, may we arise and persist on the path to the Father.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.

Fourth Station: Jesus Meets his Mother

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Jesus once told his disciples that they must be willing to abandon father, mother, brother, sister, and family, if necessary to do the will of God. On the path to Calvary, Jesus was required to practice what he preached.

Meeting his Mother while walking to his own execution must have been unbearable. Although Jesus had the power to cast off the cross in order to relieve his Mother’s anguish, he did not. Instead, he left her behind and continued carrying the cross towards death. Jesus’ meeting with his Mother demonstrates the price which discipleship may exact. While we pray that obedience to God’s call will not result in abandonment of family and friends, we are reminded that, in extraordinary cases, our commitment to Christ may require it.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Fifth Station: Simon Helps Jesus Carry the Cross

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Simon the Cyrenian no doubt considered himself unlucky. One moment, he was minding his own business, returning from work in the fields as he had done countless times before. The next moment, Roman soldiers ordered him to participate in history’s most infamous crucifixion, making him assist Jesus carry the cross.

Since Simon was compelled to help Jesus, upon pain of severe punishment for disobedience, he can be accused neither of complicity with Roman authorities nor with compassion for an exhausted, condemned man. Of all the figures in the Passion narrative, Simon the Cyrenian evokes the least feeling because he was not acting as a moral agent. Being compelled, he merits neither praise nor scorn. He could just as well have been left unidentified.

We have no such excuse. Our God invites but does not compel us to assist our brothers and sisters in need. We may do so joyfully, may do so from a sense of duty or may elect not to help at all. Unlike Simon the Cyrenian, however, we are responsible for our actions because we have a choice. Whether we do the right thing gladly or only reluctantly, we should, above all, do the right thing.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

We know as little about Veronica as we do about Simon the Cyrenian. Her encounter with Jesus on the path to Calvary is the only record we have of her. Whether she meaningfully contributed to the development of the early Church is unknown. Yet she is revered while Simon the Cyrenian is generally regarded with indifference. Why?

Perhaps it is because Veronica voluntarily took the initiative, if even in a small way, to relieve the discomfort of a man in severe pain. Shortly before entering Jerusalem, Jesus told the disciples to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the ill, welcome the stranger and visit the imprisoned. Taking action to ameliorate human suffering is an essential element of what it means to be a disciple. Veronica did not form a committee, delegate to someone else or seek permission from higher authority before acting. She saw a human need and took a concrete step to address it. Veronica, apparently an ordinary woman, responded to the Gospel message. Her simple but good example explains why she is remembered.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Seventh Station: Jesus Falls the Second Time

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he appeared to be at the height of personal popularity. Had he lived in the 21st century, Jesus would have been an international media star.

Jesus’ second fall may be thought to reflect his rapid fall from popular esteem. In the end, Jesus’ message offended powerful people, who used their influence and authority to destroy him. Having rejected Satan’s temptation in the desert to rule the world, Jesus chose to do his Father’s will and accepted his fall from worldly favor.

How often do we selfishly seek worldly position, recognition or approval at the expense of doing what is right? How often do we fail to live Gospel values from fear of secular disapproval, scorn or ridicule? As we reflect upon Jesus’ second fall, we should resolve in our daily lives to accept our own small falls from public grace where necessary fully to respond to God’s call.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Eighth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Jesus told the women of Jerusalem to “weep not for me, but for your children.” This remark clearly runs deeper than the surface meaning of not wasting time and effort lamenting the condition of a man who would be dead within three hours anyway. Jesus was addressing the vocation of parenthood.

What does it mean to “weep for our children?” Crying is an intense emotional experience. We generally do not cry for persons to whom we are not closely committed. There is the root of the matter: commitment to our children.

In the 21st century, children often are unwanted (spawning abortion and child abuse) or are wanted for the wrong reason (to fulfill the desires of the parents). As Christians, we must be committed to our children for their sakes. Although self-fulfillment hopefully will be a by-product of the commitment to our children, it should not be the motive for loving them and raising them in the faith. By its nature, love seeks what is best for the other person. May parents, first and foremost, always seek what is best for their children and not worry about whether that choice will best serve their own needs.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Ninth Station: Jesus Falls the Third Time

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When Jesus fell the third time, it was from sheer physical exhaustion. He had en beaten unmercifully by the Roman soldiers and then forced to carry a heavy cross. The physical abuse took its toll.

As disciples of Jesus, we have an obligation of stewardship towards our bodies. Proper nutrition, adequate rest and recreation, avoidance of vice substances such as illegal narcotics, tobacco and excessive alcohol, as well as regular exercise all contribute to proper stewardship of our bodies. As we reflect upon Jesus’ third fall, we should resolve not to abuse our bodies, but to protect and use our bodies appropriately until the day when God reclaims them at death.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Tenth Station: Jesus is Stripped of his Garments

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When Jesus died, he was bereft of any material item. Even his clothes were removed and sold. In 21st century America, however, we often forget that, in this respect, we are very much like Jesus. Western culture preaches the acquisition of material goods. Bigger homes, luxury cars, and the finest in food, clothes and entertainment are the order of our day. Yet, when we die, we will exit the world just as we entered it: with nothing.

Acquisition of material goods, therefore, cannot provide meaning to human life. If our lives are to have any meaning whatsoever, we must focus on eternity, and on the traits of character that will assist in obtaining happiness there. Scripture says that only faith, hope and love endure. Please do not surrender to the temptation to add material goods to that list.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Eleventh Station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

In Jesus’ time, the Romans used ropes and nails to affix a victim to a cross. Although crucifixion is distinctly out of style (and would be unconstitutional in 21st century America), modern man has used the hangman’s noose, the guillotine, the firing squad, the electric chair, the gas chamber and, most recently, the antiseptic and perversely medicinal means of lethal injection. Killing becomes easier and, in outward appearance, less grisly every day.

Christ’s crucifixion is particularly horrific because he had the virtue of being completely innocent. No appeal to any theory of retributive, deterrent or incapacitative justice can possibly warrant the result in Jesus’ case. And so we tend to distinguish the crucifixion of Jesus from the execution of heinous killers who are guilty.

But the crucifixion of Jesus and the execution of convicted criminals are identical in one fundamental respect, even setting aside weighty objections of possible judicial error and racial or socioeconomic discrimination. Whether the executed person be Jesus or a common criminal, the State has chosen to extinguish the God-given gift of human life. By what right does the State presume to possess such authority? However much the murderer has marred his soul and inexcusably deprived another person of God’s gift of life, the State is not God. The Gospel teaches not to respond to violence with yet more violence, unless to kill is absolutely necessary in self-defense or in defense of another to preserve innocent human life. As Pope John Paul II has argued, in light of advances in prison technology, there is virtually no killer who cannot be imprisoned without further threat to society. Capital punishment is illicit because it fails the necessity test: we may kill only when doing so is strictly necessary.

In the end, the death penalty is not about who the murderer is. It is about who we are. Will we surrender to the urge for retribution or will we kill only when strictly necessary? Will we respect God’s gift of human life or will we not?

Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

St. Paul wrote that it is hard enough to give one’s life for a just person; though for a good person, one might summon the courage to die. God, on the other hand, showed his love because he sent his Son to die for sinners; indeed, Christ died for us, who continue to sin despite full knowledge of the price that Jesus paid on our behalf 2000 years ago. The boundlessness of God’s love is demonstrated by Jesus’ willingness to die for a people that he knew would ignore or remain untransformed by his sacrifice. Despite that knowledge, God chose never to reject us and to invite us to reform our lives.

Our duty as Christians is to respond to the unmerited gifts of life and salvation that God has given us. If a person luckily possessed a winning $20 million lottery ticket, surely that person would redeem it. By virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, every human being possesses a far more valuable gift: a chance for eternal life. Unlike the lottery ticket, moreover, the chances of obtaining heaven are certain if we commit our lives to and trust in God. We should not waste the gift that Jesus won for us with his blood. The grim reality of Jesus’ death should penetrate our hearts and minds, spurring us to reform our lives.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Thirteenth Station: Jesus is Removed from the Cross

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Since Jesus was a pariah to the religious leadership and executed by the Romans, the easiest thing for Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, to do was to disavow his secret discipleship of Jesus. With Peter having denied Jesus three times and most of the other Apostles having fled into hiding, Joseph could comfortably have disassociated himself from Jesus’ followers and returned to traditional participation in Jewish religious life.

But Joseph did not. Incomprehensibly, Joseph chose the day of Jesus’ death, when Jesus’ disciples were most vulnerable, to publicly announce his association with Jesus by approaching Pilate with a request for the body. Joseph and Nicodemus then prepared Jesus’ body for burial.

Joseph’s actions exemplified a sometimes overlooked Christian virtue: courage. Early Christians often needed courage to face death for their faith. Although martyrdom is practically unknown in 21st century developed countries, it still takes courage to act in conformity with Christian principles when doing so conflicts with predominant secular, cultural or peer influences. Let us be people who act from principle, rather than

expedience, from commitment, rather than self-advantage. Anyone can act consistently with principle when it is in their self-interest. It takes conviction and courage to act from principle where there is risk. Joseph of Arimathea decided to take the risk.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Fourteenth Station: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

We adore you, Christ, and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Much has been written of late about the “historical” Jesus. In four historical facts, however, even the atheists believe: Jesus lived, was crucified, died and was buried in a tomb. What followed, the Resurrection, is based upon the witness of the Apostles and early disciples and upon faith. That point is where believers and unbelievers part company.

The tomb in which Jesus was buried presents every person with a stark choice. In unbelief, we may conclude that life ends at the grave. Or we may believe that Jesus defeated death by rising on Easter Sunday and promised us the same.

Why, in a few short words, should we cast our lot with the believers? We should be loath to conclude that life is meaningless. If life ends at the grave, then we should always pursue self-interest and self-gratification. If life on earth is all that exists, then virtues such as selflessness, sacrifice, commitment, justice, mercy, charity and love are futile, a complete waste of time and effort. We should serve ourselves while we can. The suffering and the poor will be just as eternally dead whether we help them or not.

But do we not notice that life is better and more peaceful when we love? Is it not true that we are happiest when we love? One of the laws of physics and chemistry, that the sum total of matter in the universe is a constant and that matter cannot naturally be created or destroyed, proves that there is a supernatural Creator. The sum total of matter in the universe had to have some origin, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught. And that Creator has imbued all humans with an unmistakable trait: we are happiest and are our truest selves when we love. We have an ingrained attraction to altruism, in direct contradiction to the principle of natural selection. Would a non-loving or evil creator choose to instill that characteristic in every human heart? Would not an evil creator desire our misery at every moment? No, it is far more probable, indeed a certitude, that only a loving God would create a people who, however flawed, have instilled in them the primordial instinct to love.

Is it not reasonable to assume that the Creator, whatever his nature, would reveal himself to his Creation? Otherwise, why bother creating other beings in the first place? In the Jewish and Christian traditions, the Creator has revealed himself as a God of love. Or, as St. John wrote, “God is love.”

Would it be the will of a God who loves and who desires an intimate love relationship with each person to have that love relationship extinguished forever at the moment of natural death? To allow death to destroy and triumph over love? No. Such a God would ensure that despite human death, the love relationship would continue. That is exactly what God has done through his Son. In English, we have chosen to name it Heaven.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be

Bernard A. Smith
Grand Knight
February 15, 2012