April 1, 2022
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In his letter to the early Church in Thessalonica, Saint Paul urges the following: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). How, though, do we pray constantly?
As we know, the most powerful prayer of the Church is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Indeed, the Second Vatican Council teaches that this Sacred Liturgy is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10).
However, even if we frequent daily Mass – a very commendable practice – how do we pray constantly during the remaining hours of each day? The Council Fathers also addressed this question. They taught that the spiritual life “is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 12).
Hence, they noted, popular devotional practices also play a crucial role in helping us to foster that ceaseless prayer encouraged by Saint Paul.
That’s why both the clergy and the lay faithful have always used a variety of pious practices as a means of permeating everyday life with prayer to God. The term given to such practices is “devotions”. Examples of such devotions include pilgrimages, novenas, processions and celebrations in honour of Mary and the other saints, the Holy Rosary, the Angelus, the veneration of relics. The list goes on. And it is to this theme of Devotions that we now turn to over the next four weeks as we continue our journey as Disciples Together on the Way.
As you will likely know, we are presently in the midst of the Lenten Season. Very soon we’ll be entering Holy Week whereupon we’ll make our solemn pilgrimage towards the passion and death of Our Lord on Good Friday before descending with him into the tomb and then onto his Glorious Resurrection come Easter. Hence, this week I want to challenge to you to embrace one particular devotion: The Stations of the Cross.
The Stations of the Cross are a series of images depicting the various stages of Jesus’ passion upon that first Good Friday. They follow Christ from being sentenced before Pontius Pilate’s praetorium to the burial of Our Lord’s bloodied but unbroken in the tomb. You’ll no doubt have seen such images around the walls of your local parish church. In recent centuries, these Stations of the Cross usually consist of fourteen such images. Each image has accompanying prayers which dwell the particular dolorous scene being depicted.
Not surprisingly, devotion to the Stations of the Cross has its roots in the Holy Land. From the earliest days of Christianity, pilgrims have attempted to retrace Christ’s Via Dolorosa or Sorrowful Way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem.
After the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the year 313 AD, this sacred pathway was publicly marked. Writing just a few decades later, Saint Jerome attests to pilgrims from various countries following this Way of the Cross.
It is the Franciscan Order, however, who popularized devotion to the Stations of the Cross around the world. Here’s a little history: In the 13th century, Saint Francis himself founded the Custody of the Holy Land to guard and promote devotion to holy places including the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem. Then in the 15th and 16th centuries his Franciscan Order began to build a series of outdoor shrines across Europe to duplicate those stations in the Holy Land. In 17th century, Pope Innocent XI granted the Franciscans the right to erect stations within their churches. And in the 18th century, under Pope Clement XII, this right was extended to all churches across the world. Hence, your parish church looks the way it does today.
But why pray the Stations of the Cross? Because the experience of suffering and of the cross touches all of us in our daily lives: A loved one who is sick; a child that is causing us concern; the burden of financial uncertainty; the unfairness being slandered or misunderstood by others; the ache of loneliness. Yes, life is often difficult and often wearisome. That is why we turn to Christ as he carries his cross through the streets of Jerusalem. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
“The Way of the Cross … invites all of us, and families in particular, to contemplate Christ crucified in order to have the force to overcome difficulties. The cross of Christ is the supreme sign of God’s love for every man and woman, the superabundant response to every person’s need for love. At times of trouble, when our families have to face pain and adversity, let us look to Christ’s cross. There we can find the courage and strength to press on.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Good Friday, 2012)
Hence, starting Sunday, here is this week’s challenge: Attend the Stations of the Cross and invite a friend or, especially, a family member to join you. It is good to go to Christ together. Indeed, it is good to be Disciples Together on the Way.
Until next week, may God bless you and your family, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Yours in Christ,
+ Earl Boyea
Bishop of Lansing