The Way of the Cross: A trip worth taking

Chevy Chase dragged his fictional family everywhere in the 1980s and 1990s, from European Vacation to Vegas Vacation. The hapless Griswold gang never made it to the Holy Land, but don’t worry—thanks to the Franciscans, they can still get a glimpse of it in spirit. The Stations of the Cross were devised by Franciscan priests to be snapshots featuring the Holy Land sites of Christ’s Passion. Also known as the Way of the Cross, the devotion conveys key Christian concepts pertaining to love and sacrifice. Among them:

1. Jesus and the way of perseverance. Jesus is unjustly condemned. How many times have we had that experience—as a mom or dad, a child, or a sibling? Because we see the value of certain limits, we as parents may be branded by our kids as “too strict” or “no fun” or “mean.” Perhaps friends misunderstand our parenting style, unfairly judging us.

The problem here is the heavy burden of unrealistic expectations, one of the modern-day crosses we bear. Parents and children don’t have to be perfect. Jesus, in his all-too-human attempt to carry the cross, fell three times. But three times he got back up. Through the Way of the Cross, Jesus teaches us the value of sticking with something we desperately believe in—hanging in there through the ups and downs of marriage, giving parenting our best even in the tough times.

2. Mary and the way of sorrow. We’ve all heard news stories that refer to the death of a child as a “parent’s worst nightmare.” It’s bad enough to see your child suffer teasing at school, or to see that your little one doesn’t have what it takes to be as smart or popular as they’d like. But to realize there’s nothing you can do about the disease or death of a child is enough to make a parent wild with grief.

Little wonder that the fourth Station of the Cross, “Jesus meets his mother,” comes right after “Jesus falls the first time.” It probably took a couple of guards to keep Mary from running up and dragging that cross herself. The late Father Henri Nouwen writes in Walk With Jesus: Stations of the Cross (Orbis Books): “Mary’s sorrow has made her not only the mother of Jesus, but also the mother of all her suffering children … . Her sorrow has made her heart a heart that embraces all her children.” The same impulse moves parents of murdered and missing children to lobby on behalf of other children, such as the mother who founded Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

3. Simon and the way of service. “Help your little brother.” “Go help your mother.” Haven’t we all heard these injunctions, in some variation, in our own families? It points to an unfortunate-but-true fact: Like Simon of Cyrene, sometimes we have to be pressed into service. For whatever reasons—resentment, self-absorption, fear, carelessness—we’re not the Good Samaritan. We need to be nudged. So long as we respond willingly, however—without the whining we attribute to children even though grownups are guilty, too—our good deeds still count. God loves a cheerful giver, not a resentful one.

4. Veronica, Jerusalem’s women, and the way of compassion. Compassion means “to suffer with.” It’s a close cousin of the word communion, which means “to join with,” and comfort, which means “to give strength with.” All three unite in Catholics’ understanding of the Body of Christ—not only Jesus’ mystical presence in the Eucharist but also in the Mystical Body of Christ described so well by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. We find such healing in the Body of Christ that we go to Communion as frequently as possible and practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy—such as feeding the hungry, tending the sick, comforting the sorrowful—to strengthen the Mystical Body of Christ. Where first, and where best, do we learn the works of mercy? From moms and dads who called us to supper and sat up with us when we were sick, whose empathy worked as well as a bandage for scraped-up knees. Families are the greenhouse that grows the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

by Mary Lynn Hendrickson, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.

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