April 3, 2000
volume 11, no. 66

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    Pat Ludwa, a committed lay Catholic from Cleveland, has been asked to contribute, on a regular basis, a lay person's point of view on the Church today. We have been impressed with his insight and the clear logic he brings to the table from his "view from the pew." In all humility, by his own admission, he feels he has very little to offer, but we're sure you'll agree with us that his viewpoint is exactly what millions of the silent majority of Catholics believe and have been trying to say as well. Pat puts it in words that help all of us better understand and convey to others what the Church teaches and we must believe.

    Today Pat, in reaching the mid-point of Lent, turns to the essence of the liturgical reason for the season and that is the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ for, as Pat shows so clearly through Scriptural passages, there can be no glory without the cross. He proceeds through the devotions of the Way of the Cross to show a meaningful, practical approach to how we should consider the rest of this period of Lent and live each day this "Way" of the Cross in order that someday we too will hear the words of Our Lord " "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). The "way" of the Cross is our only way to salvation. That is the gist of his column today, Why it is called the "WAY" of the Cross

    For past columns by Pat Ludwa, click on VIEW FROM THE PEW Archives   If you want to send him ideas or feedback, you can reach him at

Why it is called the "WAY" of the Cross

        The Stations of the Cross, the Way of the Cross, is a popular devotion for Lent. Not that droves of Catholics are going to Church to say them, just that one is more prone to hear about this devotion during Lent than at any other time. But should this be?

        Christ said, "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25) Christ said this shortly after He told His Apostles what was to happen to Him. Considering what the cross meant to them at the time, they no doubt thought He was speaking metaphorically, not literally. Soon, He would show them what He meant by taking up your cross.

        Archbishop Sheen pointed out that the cross was a barrier. For some, it's a barrier to faith, for others, it's a barrier to hell. "My will, therefore, He took to Himself, my grief. In confidence I call it grief, because I preach His Cross. Mine is the will which He called His own, for as man He bore my grief, as man He spake, and therefore said, 'Not as I will, but as Thou wilt.' Mine was the grief, and mine the heaviness with which He bore it, for no man exults when at the point to die. With me and for me He suffers, for me He is sad, for me He is heavy. In my stead, therefore, and in me He grieved Who had no cause to grieve for Himself." (St. Ambrose; Exposition of the Christian Faith, Bk II, Chap. VII, #53) "For this cause, then, that we might learn these divers virtues, "a Son was given us, Whose beginning was upon His shoulder." That "beginning" is the Lord's Cross--the beginning of strong courage, wherewith a way has been opened for the holy martyrs to enter the sufferings of the Holy War." (IBID; Bk III, Chap VII, #53)

        The Way of the Cross is more than just a devotional, it's a guide. The Way of the Cross is the way to life. It's a guide to our way of life. Though the Stations of the Cross begins for us with His being condemned, His way of the cross begins in the Garden when He accepts the will of His Father. "And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, 'My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt'" (Matthew 26:39).

        The first station: Jesus is condemned to death. Did He protest the unfairness of it? This was His Father's will for Him. Actually, He gave up His life long before, leaving the glory of Heaven and taking on the flesh of humanity. St. Paul wrote: "Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2: 6-8).

        Today, we're tempted to reject this and to grasp at things we cannot, or should not. We see those who seek the god/dess within, who see their gender, position, orientation, etc., as the center of their lives, as the most important thing. But Christ shows us how wrong this is, how true life comes from the abandonment of self, to obedience even if we think it's unfair. To the Greeks, that is, the wise, the cross is absurdity. It was unfair, or an end. Actually, as St. Ambrose said, it was the beginning. The beginning of our life. So Christ gladly accepted His cross as the way He would save mankind, and to show us the way to life.

        The Third Station: Jesus falls the first time. In fact, He fell three times. How easy it would have been to give it up then. After all, it was close, wasn't that good enough? No, He got up, time after time and continued on with what He had to do. We too fall all too often. We fall in sin. Old sins, new sins. How easy it would be to say, "Well, that's good enough. I tried." And stop trying to get back up. After all "That's the way God made me, that's good enough." Christ persevered to the end, we're called on to do the same. "Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved... And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10: 21-22; 24:11-13).

        Out of love for us, Christ got back up and continued on. Out of love for Him, we get back up and continue on. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (1 John 1:8-10)

        The fourth Station; Jesus meets His mother. Here's Mary, fulfilling Simeon's prophecy, "Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35). Her heart has been pierced, she can only try to give Him what strength she can. When our cross becomes too much for us to bear, when we fall and feel tempted to give up, she's there to offer us her strength, her prayers, for us. One can almost hear her saying "Get up my child, you're following my Son, our Lord. The suffering may be great, but the rewards are infinite."

        Simon helps carry His cross. We don't know whether Simon did this voluntarily or was 'volunteered'. But the teaching is clear. We all need help to carry our cross. This is why St. Paul wrote: "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3: 16-17) Through support and even rebuke, teaching, reproof, and correction, we help others, and ourselves, carry our cross and follow Him. When we say, "It's not our concern, judge not..." We don't help others come to Christ or carry their cross. Instead, we show that we don't care for their salvation.

        Veronica wipes the face of Christ. Such a seemingly unimportant event, but it speaks volumes. Christ's pain was Veronica's pain, His suffering, her suffering. She does what she can by wiping the dirt, sweat and blood from Christ's face. And her love and compassion is rewarded by His face on her veil. Such a little thing. But St. Theresa the Little Flower showed us that Heaven is reached in little things. Simple things, the devout participation at the Mass. Honoring and glorifying God over ourselves or the community. Going to spend an hour with Him before the Blessed Sacrament, etc. Asking what He would have us do, not what we want to do. And Christ rewards us by imprinting His face on our hearts so we may better accept the pain.

        Jesus consoles the women at the eighth station. Women have always suffered silently. Men suffered very publicly. We've suffered in our work, in wars, etc. But women suffered in caring for their children, caring for the home, helping their husbands and easing their sufferings. It was almost prophetic of today when Christ said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23:28-31). Our children are being killed, both in the womb and outside of it. If these can happen when times are good, in times of plenty, when the wood is green, what will happen when times aren't as good?

        The tenth station, Jesus is stripped of His clothing. Consider this, His blood and sweat have dried, making a sort of glue holding His clothes fast. Being stripped of His clothes is not only painful, they re-open His wounds. Likewise, we are called on to strip ourselves of the 'clothes' of the world. This is true poverty of detachment, that all we have, emotionally, intellectually, physically, isn't really ours, but given to us by God for our benefit in His service. To detach, to strip ourselves of these is painful and will no doubt open old wounds. But we can't say, "This is mine, no one can take it from me.", or, "This is who I am, no one can make me change.", and remain His followers. Whatever 'clothes' we have, rich or poor, mundane or lavish, they are God's. To hold fast to them is to deny His love for us and make ourselves more important.

        Jesus is nailed to the cross. Here is the crux of the way of the cross, the climax. Consider the two thieves hanging there with Him. One joins the mob in mocking and ridiculing Him. Not for justice sake, but for himself. "Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" (Luke 23: 39). He isn't looking for justice, or the truth, but rather, he's looking after himself. Contrast it with what the other thief said, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:40-41). One wants Christ to 'justify' his misdeeds, make them acceptable for his own sake, the other accepts his cross as just. Like the repentant tax collector, he is justified, and told "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). The other, like the conceited Pharisee, isn't given this promise.

        So, we see that the Stations of the Cross are more than a devotional, a way to recollect the Passion of Christ. It's also a guide for our lives, the way we are to live our lives. "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25).

        So, we are all called to follow the way of the cross. Or as St. Paul tells us, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church," (Col. 1:24) Not that what Christ suffered wasn't sufficient, but that we join our sufferings with that of Christ. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer" (2 Corinthians 1:3-6). "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).

        So, the way of the cross is our way of life. "If we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us;" (2 Timothy 2: 11-12). The cross is our 'life preserver' as we flounder and nearly drown in a world seeking to swallow us up. "Adoramus te, sanctissime Domine Iesu Christe, hic et ad omnes Ecclesias tuas, quae sunt in toto mundo, et benedicimus tibi; quia per sanctam Crucem tuam redemisti mundum. Amen." "We adore Thee, most holy Lord Jesus Christ, here and in all Thy churches that are in the whole world, and we bless Thee; because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the World. Amen."

        As Easter approaches, let's remember that before the glory of the resurrection, there was the suffering of the cross. Before the redemption of Christ, there was the Passion of Christ.

    Pax Christi, Pat


April 3, 2000
volume 11, no. 66

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