How to Do the Stations of the Cross

Why do the Stations? 

The most important reason for reviving the practice of making the Stations of the Cross is that it is a powerful way to contemplate and enter into the mystery of Jesus’ gift of himself to us.  It takes the reflection on the passion out of my head and makes it an imaginative exercise. It involves my senses, my experience, and my emotions. To the extent I come to experience the love of Jesus for me, to that extent the gratitude I feel will be deep. Deep gratitude leads to real generosity and a desire to love as I have been loved. 

The History: 

From the earliest of days, followers of Jesus told the story of his passion, death, and resurrection. When pilgrims came to see Jerusalem, they were anxious to see the sites where Jesus was. These sites become important, “holy connections” with Jesus. Eventually, following in the footsteps of the Lord along the “Way of the Cross” became a part of the pilgrimage visit. The Stations, as we know them today, came about when it was no longer easy or even possible to visit the holy sites. In the 1500’s, villages all over Europe started creating “replicas” of the Way of the Cross, with small shrines commemorating the places along the route in Jerusalem.  Eventually, these shrines became the set of 14 Stations we now know and were placed in almost every Catholic Church in the world. 

What if I have never done the Stations before? 

The most important thing to remember is that this can be as personal as I’d like it to be.  One of our common religious struggles is to realize that we are not alone. The Good News is that Jesus entered into our life’s experience completely – even suffering and death – and that he fell into the hands of a Loving God, who raised him from death to life.  We can have complete hope that suffering and death have no complete hold on us. We will all share eternal life with him if we can fall into the hands of the same Loving God. And, along the way, we are not alone. Jesus is with as one who knows our suffering, and the death we face. That can be deeply consoling. 

So, try the Stations, and experience the consolation they offer.  And return often, to be renewed in this intimate experience of Jesus’ solidarity with all humanity in our way of the cross each day. 

The Context: 

The first point to note is that this is prayer. It isn’t an intellectual exercise.  It is in the context of my relationship with God. I could read through the text of each of the stations, and look at the pictures, but that wouldn’t necessarily be prayer.  This is an invitation to enter into a gifted faith experience of who Jesus is for me.  It becomes prayer when I open my heart to be touched, and it leads me to express my response in prayer. 

The second thing to remember is that this is an imaginative exercise. Its purpose is not a historical examination of “what really happened” on that day in history. It is about something far more profound. This is an opportunity to use this long-standing Christian prayer to let Jesus touch my heart deeply by showing me the depth of his love for me. The context is the historical fact that he was made to carry the instrument of his death, from the place where he was condemned to die, to Calvary where he died, and that he was taken down and laid in a tomb.  The religious context is that today Jesus wants to use any means available to move my heart to know his love for me. These exercises can allow me to imaginatively visualize the “meaning” of his passion and death. 

The point of this exercise is to lead us to gratitude. It will also lead us into a sense of solidarity with all our brothers and sisters. In our busy, high tech lives, we can easily get out of touch with the terrible suffering of real people in our world. “Journeying with Jesus in the Stations,” allows us to imagine his entry into the experience of those who are tortured, unjustly accused or victimized, sitting on death row, carrying impossible burdens, facing serious or terminal illnesses, or simply fatigued with life. 

How to: 

Just go from one Station to the next. When “arriving” at a Station, begin by looking carefully at the image itself. See who is in the scene. Look at how they are arranged and what the artist who created this image is trying to tell us about the drama there.