Assumption Catholic Church
  323 West Illinois Street - Chicago IL 60654
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Fr. Joseph Chamblain, O.S.M.


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2/18/2018 Fr. Joseph Chamblain, OSM    


As usual Lent got off to a fast start. The avalanche of Catholics coming to be signed with ashes never fails to impress me. The real challenge of Lent, though, is the follow-through. How do I make the journey of these next forty days meaningful? One suggestion I have, if you have not yet settled on a plan of action for Lent, is to spend some time with an ancient meditation called the Way of the Cross.

The Way of the Cross or “making the stations” is a devotion that goes back to the early centuries of Christianity. Pilgrims would visit the Holy Land and retrace the path that Jesus walked carrying his cross, from the place of condemnation to the place of crucifixion and burial. Meditating on Christ’s suffering for us is a time tested way to experience sorrow for our sins and a desire to live a more Christ centered life. Of course, very few Christians had the opportunity or the resources to actually journey to Jerusalem. So, in the fifteenth century, the Franciscan Friars, who had been given responsibility for the care of the Sacred Shrines in the Holy Land, were also given permission to erect images of the Way of the Cross outside their churches, enabling people who could never travel to Jerusalem to make the journey vicariously. In time the Franciscans were allowed to erect these stations inside their churches, and in the eighteenth century this privilege was extended to all churches. The number of stations, which had varied widely, was fixed at fourteen.  Although essentially a private devotion, the Stations can also be prayed communally. We do this on the Fridays of Lent following the 12:10 Mass. A number of groups pray the Stations on the streets of Chicago on Good Friday.

Many of us grew up saying the prayers and meditations composed by St. Alphonsus. Each station ended with the same petition, one that is still engraved on my memory: “Grant that I may love you always and then do with me as you will.” In fact, saints and spiritual writers of every age have authored prayers and meditations to accompany the Stations. Pope John Paul II even authored a new set of fourteen stations, replacing some of the traditional scenes (like Veronica wiping the face of Jesus) that were not scripturally based, with scenes that were in the Gospels. Scrolling through “Stations of the Cross” on Amazon, one finds dozens and dozens of options, both traditional and contemporary. Also available are Stations booklets for specific groups and occasions:  The Way of the Cross for Alcoholics, for Seniors, for Children, for Teens, for Moms, for Contemplatives, for Times of Change, for a Wounded World, etc.

It occurred to me that each of us, looking at our own life, could probably find parallels for these fourteen Good Friday scenes. The list of the fourteen stations is readily available on the internet (and, of course, in church). In a less extreme way, how have I known pain and sorrow and how have I managed to find hope and persevere? For example, in the traditional Way of the Cross Jesus falls three times carrying his cross. How have I collapsed under the burden that I was carrying? Was it just a moment of frustration or did it last for weeks? Has it happened again? When it happened the second time, was it easier or harder to get back up? The 10th station is “Jesus is stripped of his garments.” Have I ever felt exposed?  What was it like when something unflattering about me was made known? How have I been exposed to the mockery and bullying of others?  Have I died on a Cross (12th station)? Did I have to finally die to something destructive (like alcohol) or a way of living that was killing me? How hard was it to trust God and let go? 

There are a number of sympathetic figures Jesus meets on the Way of the Cross.   Simon the Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross (5th station). Who has stepped forward to help me carry my cross? Who, like Veronica, has wiped my face (6th station)? Who has showed compassion with a simple human gesture?  Jesus met his mother (4th station ) Have there been people who just stayed loyal to me in tough times?

It has been said that the Catholic Church has the world’s largest attic. Practices and devotions that were once immensely popular pass out of style and then are rediscovered, polished up, and made new. The Way of the Cross is always waiting to be brought to life in a new way. Getting in touch with the crosses we have carried in life is a wonderful way of pointing us toward Easter. We realize how deeply Jesus understands our troubles, our failures, our pain, our helplessness. It is out of our suffering as well as his that new life comes.

                                                                    Fr. Joe




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