It’s Lent, Week 2. How’s it going? If it’s not going well, that’s just as it should be.
Over at Our Sunday Visitor, I wrote about how we don’t need to do anything spectacular for Lent, but need only connect typical Catholic Lenten practices with Jesus Christ.
In the same spirit of Lenten simplicity, I want to share here that we see the perfect description of the “journey” of Lent every Friday in the Stations of Cross.
Lent begins with your condemnation to death. Then comes your (failed) attempts to walk this hard road.
The first station, “Jesus is condemned,” focuses on the moment that the crowd called for Jesus to die, and “Pilate gave sentence that their demand should be granted.”
“Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return” launches our Lent on Ash Wednesday with our own death sentence.
The second station, “Jesus accepts his cross” is the moment when Jesus accepts the challenge. He had prayed, “If it is your will, let this cup pass from me.” Now he drinks the cup to its dregs.
We’re given the harsh chalice of the Ash Wednesday fast, and that is just the beginning of the longest penitential season of any major religion. We accept. Lent begins.
The third station, “Jesus falls for the first time” shows that even Jesus, the perfect man, fell almost immediately under the weight of the cross.
Many of us fell right away, too, on Ash Wednesday. Or the next day. Or the next. But Jesus doesn’t expect us not to fall — he expects us to get back up.
Lent continues as we notice that we are not alone on the journey.
The fourth station, “Jesus meets his mother” invites us to contemplate how his mother was looking out for Jesus — not by removing obstacles, but by encouraging him to keep going.
The Blessed Mother plays the same role in our Lent and in our lives, telling us in every Rosary, “You can do this!”
The fifth station, “Simon helps carry the cross” shows how Simon was pressed into service by the Romans to keep Jesus going up the hill.
The sixth station, “Veronica wipes the face of Jesus” shows how Jesus left his image with the kindly woman who wiped his face.
We are all in this together. “We get to carry each other,” as the pop song has it. That means encouraging each others’ sacrifices instead of tempting each other away, offering assistance rather than resistance, inspiration rather than rationalization.
Further on, Lent gets old and it’s easy to check out.
The seventh station, “Jesus falls a second time” shows Jesus falling again, despite the help he has received.
The long middle slog of Lent is a prime place we will fall, too — when the novelty has worn off and the end is not yet in sight. Get up, keep going, putting one uninspired foot in front of the other.
The eighth station, “Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem” gives Jesus’ own advice for our Lent: “Weep not for me but for yourselves and your children.”
First, Mary encouraged us, saying “You can do this!” — now Jesus convicts us, saying, “Your sin demands this.” Let both ring in your ears when Lent gets tiresome.
If you stay with Lent to the end, you will learn new things about yourself.
The ninth station, “Jesus falls a third time,” shows Jesus falling as he finally arrives at Calvary.
This is the most disconcerting fall of all — the fall when the end is in sight. But, for us, this is the fall that reveals what we truly are attached to — the thing we don’t need, but can’t seem to live without. Get up, give it up again, and stand before God, admitting defeat.
The tenth station, “Jesus is stripped of his garments,” is the moment that Jesus stands naked before heaven and earth, with nothing to give but his body.
The eleventh station, “Jesus is nailed to the cross,” is the ultimate gift of Jesus to the Father, the ultimate sacrifice of himself.
This is the ultimate purpose of Lent: to strip away the attachments that bind us, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving — in order to nail ourselves to the will of God.
Lent will culminate in a goal that made the whole thing worthwhile.
The twelfth station, “Jesus dies on the cross,” is Good Friday, when Jesus destroys our sins.
The thirteenth station, “Jesus is taken down from the cross” is like Holy Saturday, when Jesus descends into hell, leaving an empty cross.
The fourteenth station, “Jesus is buried” leaves us with the promise of Easter, when Jesus rises, leaving an empty tomb.
And that’s when a new, longer journey will begin.