The Stations of the Cross took on a deeper meaning the year my mom died. I would faithfully show up at my parish in Austin to pray them. The version that we used was written by the lake Mark Searle. In fact, I enjoyed them so much that I asked our director of liturgy if I could use them back home. She graciously agreed.
The station that really affected me was the 14th, in particular, the meditation that Searle wrote:
"Lord, we know the way that leads us, with you, to our Father. Quiet our troubled hearts when we forget to trust and are buried in our discouragement. Prepare a special place for the people we love who have died. Turn our loneliness into joy as we look forward to our reunion with them."Up until 2005, these were my Stations of choice. Then came Good Friday 2005. The Venerable Pope John Paul II had asked the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who would wind up succeeding him to the Chair of St. Peter as Pope Benedict XVI) to compose that year's meditations for the Stations of the Cross. I had already admired Cardinal Ratzinger, but, it was not until I read the meditations that he had composed that I learned a lot about the depth of his spirituality.
Praying these particular stations (once the Holy See made them available) was an entirely different experience from what I had previously prayed. Pope Benedict's meditations go beyond the sentimentality of Searle's version. In fact, on first reading, they can be jarring. But, it is precisely because they are jarring that these meditations are both challenging and profound. His words make us confront our sinfulness head-on, forcing us to take a good, long look at ourselves.
Let us look at the meditation that he offers for the First Station:
The Judge of the world, who will come again to judge us all, stands there, dishonored and defenseless before the earthly judge. Pilate is not utterly evil. He knows that the condemned man is innocent, and he looks for a way to free him. But his heart is divided. And in the end he lets his own position, his own self-interest, prevail over what is right. Nor are the men who are shouting and demanding the death of Jesus utterly evil. Many of them, on the day of Pentecost, will feel "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37), when Peter will say to them: "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God... you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law" (Acts 2:22ff.). But at that moment they are caught up in the crowd. They are shouting because everyone else is shouting, and they are shouting the same thing that everyone else is shouting. And in this way, justice is trampled underfoot by weakness, cowardice and fear of the diktat of the ruling mindset. The quiet voice of conscience is drowned out by the cries of the crowd. Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think.
How true those words ring, especially today. We are not immune to being swept up by the tsumani that is the dictatorship of relativism. We tend to follow the crowd, now knowing where it will lead us. The former cardinal's words remind us that we have a different standard that we should follow, that set forth by Jesus, Himself.
Consider the meditation that he offers for the Ninth Station, Jesus' third fall:
What can the third fall of Jesus under the Cross say to us? We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in his Passion. His betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison Lord, save us (cf. Mt 8: 25).
I can relate to this particular station. The Holy Father seems to put into words my own frustrations when it comes to poorly celebrated liturgies. When I first read this particular meditation, it pierced right through me. He put into words what I had experienced many times (and, sadly, still continue to experience).
The prayer Pope Benedict composed for this particular station is a plea of mercy that I believe could be made even apart from the Stations:
Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.
It is both a plea for God's mercy and a stinging moment of self-realization. It's a prayer that compels us to examine our own consciences as we implore God's intervention.
While I do find comfort in the Station meditations that Mark Searle wrote, the version composed by Pope Benedict XVI help me to take a long and hard look at myself, to examine my failings and to ask God for His mercy. They force me to confront the things that I have done and the things that I have failed to do.
Here is a link to the Stations of the Cross composed by the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI:
The Way of the Cross by Pope Benedict XVI