One of today's most popular and respected Catholic writers presents the first guide to the new Stations of the Cross, reflecting the revisions made by Pope John Paul II.
A traditional devotion for Catholics for more than four hundred years, the Stations of the Cross commemorates the route Jesus traveled from being sentenced to death, crucified, and then buried in a borrowed tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem. In the past, the devotion included a number of stations based on popular stories of piety and devotion, but not mentioned in the Gospels. Over the past eight years, however, Pope John Paul II has made substantial changes to the devotion in his Good Friday celebrations of the stations, removing those not found in the Bible and replacing them with stations that more accurately follow scriptural accounts of Christ's passion.
The revised Stations of the Cross focuses on the condemned Jesus and on the community walking the way with him to the cross. Unrelieved by stories like Veronica's wiping blood off the face of Jesus and his meeting with his mother; this is a story of an execution. The new stations deal directly with the pain, suffering, betrayal, and injustice to which Jesus was subjected. In explaining his reasons for revising the stations, the Pope has said that the alterations are intended to serve as a model for other devotions and to encourage the return to the Scriptures as the source of and inspiration for contemporary worship.
In this helpful, authoritative guide, Megan McKenna presents the fourteen new stations with the scriptural passages that Pope John Paul II uses on Good Friday. She also provides a basic introduction to the practices and reflections on the importance of the devotion for present-day Catholics and Episcopalians.
In the Catholic tradition, the Stations of the Cross commemorate the various stages of Jesus' final journey from the time of his condemnation all the way through his crucifixion and burial. As a metaphor for the struggles, injustices, and doubts we face along the spiritual path, the Stations are indeed powerful touchstones. "The Stations of the Cross are a compass, a guide for the heart, a blueprint, and a source for sounding out our responses to what prevails and happens in our world today," writes McKenna, an internationally known retreat leader and spiritual director, based in Albuquerque, N. M. "They offer wise counsel on how to walk with dignity, with grace, [and] with compassion." Over the last 400 years, these sacred stations were somewhat compromised as devotees began to add and adapt stations to meet their devotional needs. McKenna's eloquent book eliminates the controversial stations (such as Veronica wiping the blood from Jesus' face) and instead offers thoughtful meditations on the 15 stations recently sanctioned by Pope John Paul II. Each chapter delves into one station, citing its reference in scripture and then suggesting a modern-day context for contemplation. For instance, in the second station, when Judas betrays Jesus, McKenna ponders the capacity for God's forgiveness that lies with us all. Each chapter closes with a soothing prayer. Timed for a Lenten release date, this makes a fitting companion for the season's daily devotionals.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 20, 2003
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Excerpt from The New Stations of the Cross by Megan McKenna
He went, as usual, to the Mount of Olives with the disciples following him. When they reached the place, he said to them, "Pray now, that you may be faithful to what God wants." Then he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, knelt down, and prayed, "O Holy One, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done." . . . When he rose from prayer, he returned to his disciples but found them sleeping because of their grief. He said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Rise up and pray so that you may be faithful."
Scripture: Mark 14:33-36
Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to the garden. He was greatly distressed and troubled. He said to them, "My soul is sorrowful, even unto death. Remain here. Watch." He fell on the ground and prayed if it were possible, this hour might pass from him. "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me: yet not what I will, but what you will."
Prayers and love are learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible and your heart has turned to stone.
It begins: the Way of the Cross, the Via Crucis, as Jesus, the Holy One, turns his face toward Jerusalem and the destiny of all the prophets of God. This is the time of decision, of determination and conscious prayer in the face of the destruction that lies ahead. This is where Jesus begins to face down his fear. And it is where we, as his followers, begin to face down our fears. Death is close, but it is the death that is conceived in hate, in violence, leading to the deliberate, extinction of another's life. It is the death of the prophet, the truth-teller, the person who serves and obeys the will of God above the will of any nation, any government, any religious body, any group with affluence or power. His death will be a long time coming, in anguish, terrible aloneness, betrayal, and horror, the vicious horror that only human beings can inflict on one another.
Jesus enters the garden deliberately, in preparation, intending to face his fears by facing his God, his Father. His greatest fear is to offend his Father, to disobey his own calling, his integrity, and the word of God in his life. This is the prayer of hope and desperation, of acceptance and commitment, the cry for strength and endurance, the prayer that he might live, and if he must die, to die with hope, with steadfast belief in his Father, and if need be, without consolation. He prays to be faithful to what God wants, and exhorts his followers, already caught in the grip of grief and fear that grows palatable, to pray with him and to pray for themselves in this time of darkness.
The Father is the God of life, of love, of forgiveness and freedom for all. And he himself has come for life, life ever more abundant and creative. And so Jesus falls before his Father, on his knees, begging and pleading for life instead of the cup of bitterness that others will offer him as they wrest his life from him in violence. But this night, this garden will be the place of freedom and obedience for Jesus, and he will look and watch and pray. He will contemplate and will himself to a death of nonviolent and loving response toward all, even toward those who seek only to kill him, silence him, and stop such goodness and unbearable truth from existing in a human being in this world.
Contemplation is a long, loving look at reality, especially reality that is painful and hard to look at, but this is what Jesus does. He bends before his Father and his God and recommits himself in obedience to life, the life of the freedom of the children of God. He prays for peace, for holiness and wholeness even as his life begins to pour forth from him. He lives and faces terror and violent death and reveals to all how to exist in spite of the hate and harm that others intend for us. We must learn. We must imitate. We must pray and we must demonstrate again as we begin this journey to the cross that we are dedicated to a life of nonviolence and a life of contemplation, in obedience to our God, following on the way of our brother and master, Jesus.
Our history tells us of those who walked this way, struggling as Jesus did, seeking life in the face of death. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in one of his journals while he was in prison, "Once Jesus bids you come and follow him, he bids you come and die." He sought to express his knowledge, born of prayer in the face of fear, this way:
There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. Peace means to give oneself altogether to the law of God, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won where the way leads to the cross.