The life of a deacon: Thursday night, as I was putting on my coat after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the administrator pulled me aside. “Did anyone mention to you anything about doing a reflection tomorrow after the Stations of the Cross?” Um, no. “Okay. You’re doing a reflection tomorrow after the Stations of the Cross. G’night.”  It was short notice, but here it is. 

In the 18th century, a custom developed in Rome of having a public praying of the Way of the Cross at the Coliseum on Good Friday.  It’s evolved over the years. In 2000, Pope John Paul started the practice of composing the reflections himself every year, and under Benedict and now Francis, that job has been given to other people or groups of people.

Pope Francis has been especially creative. Last year, the prayers were written by prisoners, staff and family members at an Italian prison. This year, the authors are children from Rome.

This reminds us of the beautiful truth that the Way of the Cross belongs to everyone. It is part of everyone’s story, no matter the circumstances.

We realize that the journey to Calvary didn’t just happen once 2,000 years ago. It’s not just a piece of history to be preserved in plaster on the walls of this church.

It is happening today. 

Over the last year, there have been countless Ways of the Cross lived out here in New York City and around the world.

So many have walked this road.

There is the Way of the Cross of those in ICU, unable to speak to or touch those they love.

There is the Way of the Cross of health care workers. Of the unemployed. Of children separated from friends and school. Of people lining up in cars for hours to get food.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought its own kind of Calvary, its own Way of the Cross. By the grace of God, it may soon be coming to an end.

And also, by the grace of God, we have seen simple courage, compassion and charity extended in so many ways. There have been countless Veronicas and Simons who have tried to wipe away some of the pain and help carry a burden — friends, family, volunteers, strangers.

I think of the priests in some dioceses around the country who volunteered to give the anointing of the sick to COVID patients. Chicago created a 24-man “response team” of priests who were trained in how to use protective equipment, and then sent out to homes, hospitals and nursing homes as needed.

These are some of the Veronicas and Simons of our own time.

The Way of the Cross, of course, is different for all of us. The route changes. It may lead us on detours we never expected.

For some of us, it winds through the hallways of a hospital or nursing home. It may even follow a familiar path through our own home.

While the path is different for each of us, so is the cross.

Because not all crosses are made of wood.

A cross can be a marriage. A job. A relationship. An addiction. It may take the form of anxiety or depression or loneliness.

The cross can be racism. Bigotry. Poverty. Injustice of all kinds.

Sometimes, for some of us, the cross can be life itself.

But walking this particular journey, walking beside Christ, we find something unexpected.

 We find hope.

After leading the Way of the Cross in 2012, Pope Benedict put it beautifully:

 “In times of trial and tribulation,” he said, “we are not alone; the family is not alone. Jesus is present with his love, he sustains us by his grace and grants the strength needed to carry on, to make sacrifices and to overcome every obstacle. And it is to this love of Christ that we must turn when human turmoil and difficulties threaten the unity of our lives and our families. The mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection inspires us to go on in hope.”

This, I think, is what draws us to this devotion year after year, season after season.

We witness with immediacy and clarity what God did for us.

We are drawn to the streets of Jerusalem, to the struggles of the Son of God, wounded and bleeding and weakened before the world.

We see someone unfairly judged and dismissed. We see him fall, get up, move on.

We encounter the heartbreak of his mother, the tenderness of Veronica, the strength of Simon, the cruel humiliation of the soldiers.

We share the anguish of a difficult death.

We realize that the Son of God endured this much and more out of love for us — and that he understands in the deepest way the pain of what it is to be human.

That is part of the power of this devotion, and really why it belongs to each of us in a very personal way — why it is part of everyone’s story.

But in the end, we also know something even more vital, something that can help all of us as we walk our own Way of the Cross.

This is our consolation, our strength, our hope:

The end of the Way of the Cross…is not the end of the story.

Photo: Gerd Eichmann / Wikipedia /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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