Both as individuals and as the Body of Christ, the Church, we adore and praise our Lord because by his holy cross he has redeemed us and our world. Pope Benedict expressed the way that Christ and the cross relate to us: “The experience of suffering and of the cross touches all mankind.” For this reason, Christians for centuries have been contemplating not only the image of Christ on the cross as it adorns our churches, but also what in the details of his actions might be of help to us for our instruction and growth. In short, by tracing the steps he took, the words he uttered, and the sacrifice of his own life that he offered on Calvary, we enter into his passion so that we too might share his resurrection.
This desire to share in Jesus’ steps on Calvary first developed as a pilgrimage of prayer. Pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem to visit the place where Jesus died; many continue this practice today. In the sixteenth century, however, Franciscans developed the devotional practice of establishing stations, or points of meditation on the passion of Christ, that were closer to home. By the eighteenth century, the number of stations became established at fourteen and one could make a pilgrimage of prayer with Christ right around the church building or grounds. The mystery of Christ’s sacrifice for you and me was meant to be accessible to each of us, that we might walk those steps often and always in the course of our lives. And in this prayer, which engages not only Sacred Scripture but our imagination, we place ourselves in the narrative to meet and discover our Lord anew.
We never walk these steps alone, but in the communion of saints who throughout history have found hope and life in Christ’s cross. St. Paul preached Christ crucified to the Corinthians (1 Cor 2:2). Many people continue to pray the now classic Way of the Cross by St. Alphonsus Liguori. For us, hopefully we grow to discover, as did Blessed Basil Moreau, the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, that
“… human life is like a great Way of the Cross. We do not have to go to the chapel or church to go through the different stations. This Way of the Cross is everywhere and we travel it every day, even in spite of ourselves and without being aware of it.”
Blessed Moreau knew that in frequently praying and contemplating the Way of the Cross we begin to understand our own spiritual journey in terms of Christ’s. Christ’s steps give deeper meaning and purpose to our own. Christ’s own suffering means that our redeemer knows and can relate to the feeling of human pain and the suffering of injustice. Once we have walked enough, we come to realize it is no longer I but Christ who walks, and lives, and moves in me (Gal 2:20).
This Lent as we pray the Way of the Cross from all the corners of the globe we are simultaneously conforming our lives to Christ’s steps and witnessing for the world that our faith is one that does not fear the brokenness of sin nor the frustrations of suffering. No, it is precisely these things that Christ came to redeem. Then and only then do we see the cross for what it really is, the brightest hope that we can offer to our world that still knows suffering. As the ancient hymn put it so boldly: O Crux Ave Spes Unica. Hail the Cross, our only hope!
Fr. Kevin Grove, CSC, was ordained in the Congregation of Holy Cross in 2010. He is currently pursuing doctoral studies in theology at the University of Cambridge, England. He co-wrote “You Have Redeemed the World: Praying the Stations in the Holy Cross Tradition” and co-edited “The Cross Our Only Hope: Daily Reflections in the Holy Cross Tradition” both with fellow Holy Cross priest Fr. Drew Gawrych, C.S.C. Both books were published by U.S. Province apostolate, Ave Maria Press.