Praying the Stations of the Cross

 An old post from an old blog on why I love to pray the Stations of the Cross (edited down):

 Normally the only time I pray the Stations of the Cross was during Lent, and even then, I felt like I didn't get much out of it. It was difficult for me to "feel" anything as I listened to the prayers and watched the priest carry his own cross around the church. I appreciated the symbolism of it but I just had a hard time owning it as the symbolism of my own sins and cross too.

Yet now every Friday, since it's become a good habit of prayer to pray the Stations of the Cross, I've forced myself to commit to it. I don't always feel like going to Adoration but I'm always glad that I went.

At first, I felt the way I did as always, that the Stations was a good prayer to pray but I had such a hard time relating to the sorrows of Jesus. For one thing, I wasn't there at that time when Jesus was crucified. For another, even though I knew He died for my sins, I had a hard time feeling any sort of real sorrow for this. I mean, the way I thought about myself was: Becky-wife and mother of 5 children, likes to play around with clay, tries hard to be a good Catholic. Not: Becky--sinner and murderer of Jesus Christ, source of His agony and cause and distress His Mother's tears.

All of this bothered me. It made me feel really cold-hearted.

In truth, I was cold-hearted. Not purposely, but my heart was not used to thinking and praying in this way, not used to forcing itself to feel something for Jesus's crucifixion. I wasn't used to taking responsibility for my own sins and I wasn't used to contemplating what Jesus's love had done to save us from what our sins would cost us.

So I slowly chiseled away at this coldness in my heart--or I should say that God chiseled away. I had my little prayer book that led me through the Stations, and this helped for a while. But after a while, I had the prayers and meditations memorized and my mind would start to wander, so then I would buy a new book with a fresh perspective and for a while that would help. But it wouldn't be long until I had those prayers memorized too. Every time I bought a new prayer book, I would feel like my heart would start to warm up a little and start to feel a little something about the Agony of Jesus, but it wasn't long until those prayers--no matter how beautifully stated--would become old and stale.

I began to pray for Dad the Holy Souls in different ways--sometimes I would pray the Sorrowful Mysteries or St.Gemma's book The Holy Hour. A great book and mediation on Jesus's agony in the garden. I found this book in Dad's desk, of all places. It has earned the Pastors's seal of approval now proudly holds a place in a pew in the chapel where many people read it and benefit from it.But I was always finding myself drawn back to the Stations of the Cross. So I would take up my little book of memorized prayers and just try to get through the dryness as best I could.

One day, as I was doing my best to get through the meditations, I felt drawn to put the book down and just imagine the scene of the Station in my head. It kind of felt like I was going against the "rules" on this, since I have never prayed the Stations of the Cross this way. But I remembered that Fr.Dufnar said that if you ever get these feelings of prompting, that you should listen to it, as many times, it is God who is prompting you. So I did this for the first station (Jesus is Condemned) and the second station (Jesus takes up His Cross) and so on. Sometimes I would start to read a little from the book to help me get started and other times I would completely forget to read from the book at all.

And gradually, the reality that I knew to be the world around me would fade and suddenly, I felt like I was there, with Jesus, watching Him in His agony. I am always in the crowd, as I count myself a sinner, but I'm one of the people who are watching, not yelling at Him. I watch Him get condemned, I watch Him take up His cross, I watch Him take His first fall...suddenly I start to feel things; I begin to take ownership for what I have done in my own life that causes Jesus so much pain. I also begin to take notice of things that I hadn't' noticed before--such as the wound in His shoulder. I had never understood why the wound in His shoulder would be so painful or even mentioned as one of His biggest physical sufferings compared to other ones, like the nails in His hands and feet. But as I watched, I saw that every step He took, caused the cross that dragged behind Him to rub back and forth on His shoulder, acting like a saw, and therefore, causing the heavy cross to dig deeper and deeper into His shoulder.

During His falls, I see how the thorns get pushed into His skull and penetrate His brain...I see how bloody His Face is, to the point where you cannot recognize His features, and how Veronica takes her veil and holds the cloth up to His Face, and for just a moment, you can see His eyes and nose and mouth, before the blood starts to pour again.

Because of the Stations of the Cross are broken up by each station, it is a meditation of each suffering that took place during His own March for Life for us. Because it's broken up, it's easier to contemplate than just "the crucifixion" or even "the Passion", as that by itself, is so much to comprehend. Since practicing meditation on the Stations, I have found myself repenting with true sorrow for my sins. I can take ownership for my sins through the Stations, because so much enlightenment comes through. One thing I've learned is that you can't meditate on the Passion without learning something about yourself.

I also find myself frequently apologizing to the Mother of God for crucifying her Son. Again, you can't meditate on Jesus's sufferings without seeing Mary's sufferings as well, since she was the only one who went through it with Him. I see her when she meets Jesus on the Way of the Cross, I see her crying as He is stripped before multitudes who mock His wounds, I see her fainting as they pound nails in His hands and feet and I see her agony as she stands by the foot of the cross, completely helpless to do anything for Him, but to just stay near Him in His agony.

And I watch her agony as they lay the body of Jesus in her arms. In my mind's eye, He is so limp. He is so pale and bloody at the same time, and she is covered in His blood. She holds him in her lap and takes off the crown of thorns that gets snarled in His hair, and she sees for the first time the deep holes surrounding His skull. My heart breaks as I watch the Mother of God, finally able to hold her Son as her heart had been longing to do, only to hold Him dead. And so many things come to my mind; the bodies of the unborn babies who are never held; the little children who die in orphanages alone, and the mothers of children who died. Our Lady is still holding so many tragedies in her hands.

How can I not apologize to Our Lady for the agony that I put her through? How can I not express my sorrow for my sins that Jesus died for? At the same time, I rejoice that He chose to do it. I rejoice for this great love.

This is what saying the Stations of the Cross has taught me. It's no longer a stale prayer that I can't relate to--it's more like a love story. A story of how much Jesus suffered for us personally--each one of us--but how He wanted to do it. As I "watch" Jesus literally hanging from those nails, wondering how the weight of His body doesn't tear his off from the nails, I find myself awestruck thinking, "there is joy in this suffering--while He's hanging there for 3 hours, there is joy because He loves us and He wanted to do this for us."

Praying the Stations of the Cross has brought me to a deeper level of prayer; it's given me greater insight and empathy of the sufferings of Jesus and His Mother, it has helped me have true sorrow for my sins, and it just goes deeper every time. Every time I pray the Stations, my own sins come to mind--those I have confessed and those I need to confess, weaknesses that I know I need to keep working on, and insights on how to better work on them--and resolutions to live my life better. To be holier, to be more prayerful. All from the Stations of the Cross.  It's gotten a little embarrassing, as I am always crying lately in the Adoration chapel. Even passing by a crucifix sometimes brings me to tears. But this is how it's supposed to be, right? This is how I want to feel when I look at a crucifix. I want to feel joy and sorrow and resolve again--for the one thousandth time--to do better. What a shame it would be to completely waste this life without the resolution to live it the best you can.

Standing before a crucifix finally has helped me get to a place where we are supposed to be as Christians. It's the same as visiting a grave or looking at a picture of someone who has passed away--but even more so, standing before a crucifix and gazing at His sufferings not only gives me sorrow for my sins but it gives me the strength and firm resolve to not commit those sins again. Looking at the crucifix in this way, is the same as making an Act of Contrition.

And I wouldn't have gotten this far, because I just couldn't relate. I couldn't relate to the end.  It had to start the beginning--and the beginning starts with the Stations of the Cross.

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