The Way of the Cross is the way of love. It was love that urged Jesus some two thousand years ago to embrace his cross, carry it to Golgotha, and offer himself completely as a gift of love for our salvation.
He was not forced to do this. He is God. In an instant, Jesus could have liberated himself from his captors in Gethsemane or come down from the Cross. As he clearly says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). Jesus freely chose to endure this suffering. Why? Out of love for us.
As one commentator put it, “The Spirit … as a divine fire burning in his breast, drives him to walk to Calvary.”
The Stations of the Cross devotion allows us to enter into this divine fire of Christ’s love; indeed, it invites us to participate in this deeper meaning of Christ’s passion. While the word “passion” (from the Latin passio) means “suffering,” Pope Benedict XVI calls us to see another layer of meaning. He points out how the modern sense of the word “passion” can describe passionate love, which also sheds light on the mystery of what Jesus did for us on Good Friday.
As the Holy Father explains, “God is … a lover with all the passion of a true love.”
God is so passionately in love with us that, even though we have sinned and turned away from his love countless times, he still wants to do whatever he can to unite himself to us. He wants to remove whatever sins, hurts, or barriers keep us from full union with him.
He broke in to our world, became one of us, sought us out, and even entered into our suffering and death—all so that he could rescue us and be one with us. It was love that drove him to do this. Through the Stations of the Cross, we encounter that divine love in a powerful way. Each station reveals certain aspects of his love. We see his humility, his mercy, his compassion—even when he is suffering the most.
We see his courage and his willingness to stand up for what is true; his perseverance in completing his most challenging mission; and his patience in enduring misunderstandings, mockery, false accusations, and abandonment along the way: He was rejected by the people he came to save, betrayed by one of his twelve apostles, and let down by his closest friends, the very disciples whom he loved the most.
Still, the Stations of the Cross also reveal Jesus’ complete confidence in the Father—“Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46) and his total surrender to the Father’s will—“Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). We see his generosity, his desire to sacrifice, his willingness to suffer for the sake of others. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Windows into Christ’s Heart
Each station is like a window into the heart of Jesus. At every step of the way, we can look inside and see another beautiful aspect of his love. But the Stations of the Cross are not just windows. They are not meant to be something we passively look at from the outside. They are more like doorways, through which we are called to enter. Jesus does not want us standing on the outside of each station, merely admiring what he did for us. He does not want our applause. He wants our hearts. He wants us to step inside each station and enter the mystery of his love so that he can reproduce that love in us.
While this devotion certainly inspires us to grieve our sins and praise and thank Jesus for all he did for us, it also summons us to live the Stations of the Cross in our own daily lives. After all, this is the essence of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
As we encounter Christ at each station, then, Jesus draws us to love more like him in our marriages, families, friendships, parishes, workplaces, and communities. He wants us to forgive those who hurt us. He gives us many opportunities to share in his sufferings when misunderstood or underappreciated. He invites us to be patient and gentle with our children.
He calls us to be more compassionate with our spouse, even when they hurt us, realizing “they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He wants us to be courageous like him, willing to stand up for what is true, even if we are persecuted for it in our secular culture. He wants us to surrender our own plans and dreams, committing our will entirely to the Father’s like he did. And he wants us to put our whole lives into the Father’s hands.
Our Role in the Story
The stations also invite us to reflect on the different characters in the drama of the Passion. We can put ourselves in their shoes and ponder how we would respond if we were there: Would we run away in fear? Would we join the hurtful words? Or would we simply be silent? Or would we reach out to help Jesus, defend him, give him a kind word, and offer a look of compassion?
We also can ask ourselves, Which part do I play in the story? Am I like the apostles sleeping, Peter denying, or Judas betraying? Am I cowardly, like Pilate, or ridiculing, like Herod? Am I like the women weeping, Simon helping, Veronica comforting, or the good thief repenting? Am I 21 like the disciples who were nowhere close to Calvary in Jesus’ greatest hour of need, or like Mary and St. John, who remained with Jesus to the very end?
This article is based on Edward Sri’s book Pocket Guide to Stations of the Cross (Ascension Press)