An introduction on how to pray the Stations of the Cross with St. Alphonsus St. Alphonsus’ Way of the Cross could well be the most popular form of the Stations of the Cross currently in use. It may be that the Stations written by St. Alphonsus are nearly as popular as every other set of Stations taken together! Nevertheless, though The Way of the Cross which St. Alphonsus wrote is extremely popular, it may be the case that many would like to learn how better to pray these Stations with St. Alponsus. To this end, we will consider the Stations of St. Alphonsus in several successive posts over the next two weeks. In this first article, we will take a more general look at the structure and characteristics of St. Alphonsus’ Way of the Cross, pointing out the elements which are most essential to St. Alphonsus’ understanding of prayer and the spiritual life. In subsequent articles, we will consider the particular Stations in themselves. St. Alphonsus’ Way of the Cross is not Ignatian It is often helpful, in order to come to a fuller understanding of a particular approach to prayer, to compare that spirituality to another. In this regard, we may consider how widely different is St. Alphonsus’ method of mediation from that which is most commonly called “Ignatian Prayer.” The prayer which is termed “Ignatian,” and is most clearly embodied in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, focuses largely on entering the biblical scene. Over and over again, St. Ignatius directs the believer to imagine the original biblical setting (and especially particular realistic details of the setting) and to “enter into” the moment either as a biblical character or (perhaps) as oneself. This Ignatian Prayer, valuable as it is, has little in common with the spirituality of St. Alphonsus. The Doctor of Morals directs us not so much to imagine the scene, as to consider the love which is manifested in the words and deeds of Christ. As we recognize this immense love, we are then able to make an act of love in return. For St. Ignatius, the imagination and the intellect hold a very high place; but, for St. Alphonsus, it is the will and even the affects which are of greatest concern. [please note: By no means do we intend to pit these two schools of spirituality (nor less these two saints) one against the other. Rather, it is our intention simply to point out the legitimate diversity which exists within the Church’s life.] Key themes in St. Alphonsus’ doctrine of prayer (summarized from The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection) The necessity of the prayer of petition – For St. Alphonsus, the most necessary form of prayer is the prayer of petition. Certainly, thanksgiving, adoration, praise, and meditation are all very important. Still, the most necessary and truly essential form and aspect of prayer is the prayer of petition. When we pray, according to St. Alphonsus, we must ask for graces. All our prayer is directed to this end: That we might ask for the right graces, that we might persevere in asking, and that we might ask with great confidence. Affective movements in prayer – While it is certainly true that St. Alphonsus allots a healthy role to the intellect, it is also clear that the Doctor insists on the primacy of the will in the spiritual life. By “affective movements,” we mean especially acts of hope and love. Affectivity is not merely to be understood as emotions or feelings, but as movements of the will (which must be in accord with reason). A good example of what St. Alphonsus means by stressing affectivity in prayer is his regular use of ejaculations: My Good and Loving Jesus, let me love you more and more! Meditation as a means rather than the end – From these previous points, it follows that mediation is only a means in the spiritual life. For St. Alphonsus, the principle goal of prayer is the prayer of petition. But, we will only ask with confidence and perseverance if we are convinced that God loves us and that we love God – thus, the importance of affective movements. However, the primary motivation for our love is the Love of God as expressed in the life of Christ and the other elements of Divine Revelation. Thus, St. Alphonsus tells us that mental prayer and meditation are morally necessary – since, without mental prayer, it will be very difficult for us to engage fully in the prayer of petition (which is absolutely necessary to all). The grace of final perseverance – Finally, first among those good things, for which St. Alphonsus directs us to ask when we enter the prayer of petition, is the grace of final perseverance. This is the goal of all our prayer: Salvation. This is the one grace needed for salvation: Final perseverance. But, St. Alphonsus reminds us, the grace of final perseverance is not merely that last grace which brings us into eternal life, but it is a whole string of graces throughout our life which inspire us to good works and, especially, to prayer. More than anything else, we must ask for the grace of final perseverance, since it cannot be merited but can only be imprecated and begged for from the almighty and merciful God. Characteristics of St. Alphonsus’ meditations on the Stations of the Cross Affective: Over and over again, St. Alphonsus directs us to consider the love which motivated Christ on his sorrowful journey and also to make multiple acts of love for our adorable Jesus. My Lord Jesus Christ, You have made this journey to die for me with unspeakable love […] I love You will all my heart […] You go to die for love of me. I want, my beloved Redeemer, to die for love of You. (from the Preparatory Prayer) Petitionary: Throughout the Stations, St. Alphonsus leads us to ask for graces from our loving Savior. These petitions are at the heart of the Doctor’s spirituality. Grant that I may love You always, and then do with me as You will. (the conclusion to nearly every Station) Brief meditation: Notice that St. Alphonsus does offer a simple meditation on the mystery kept at each Station. However, it is striking to note that the affective prayer which follows each meditation is almost always substantially longer than the meditation itself. Consider how brief is the meditation offered for the Twelfth Station (“Jesus dies upon the Cross”): Consider how your Jesus, after three hours of agony on the Cross, abandons Himself to the weight of His body, bows His head, and dies. Tropological, or moralizing: By this we mean to indicate that St. Alphonsus regularly offers a spiritual interpretation of the historical event – usually focusing on a moral implication signified by the reality itself. The mysteries of Christ’s life are re- interpreted spiritually along moral lines. My beloved Jesus, Your face was once beautiful before You began this journey; but, now, it no longer appears beautiful […] Alas, my soul also was once beautiful when it received Your grace in Baptism; but I have since disfigured it with my sins. (from the Sixth Station, “Veronica offers her veil to Jesus”) Marian: It is good to recall that St. Alphonsus is the “Marian Doctor.” Thus, it is no surprise that the Blessed Virgin Mary plays a central role in several of the Stations. Beyond the obvious Fourth Station (“Jesus meets His afflicted Mother”), she is also mentioned with great devotion and tenderness in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Stations (“Jesus is taken down from the Cross” and “Jesus is placed in the sepulcher,” respectively) Focused on final perseverance: The one essential grace for which we must daily ask is the grace of final perseverance. But, as we have mentioned above, this grace (according to St. Alphonsus) is really a whole string of graces by which the good Lord directs us in our daily perseverance, especially in the life of prayer. Considering the love of our Savior, witnessed and realized in his dolorous Passion, the believer is inspired to beg the good Lord for perseverance. By the merits of this new fall, give me the grace to persevere in Your love until death. (from the Seventh Station, “Jesus falls the second time”) “Meditation is nothing more than a converse between the soul and God; the soul pours forth to him its affections, its desires, its fears, its requests, and God speaks to the heart, causing it to know his goodness, and the love which he bears it, and what it must do to please him. I will lead her into solitude, and speak to her heart.” (from The Way of Salvation and Perfection) The first three Stations of the Cross, with St. Alphonsus In an earlier article, we have discussed some of the general themes of St. Alphonsus’ approach to the Stations of the Cross and also what makes his spirituality different from others (in particular, from Ignatian prayer). In this article, we will begin our commentary on St. Alphonsus’ Way of the Cross itself – a project which will extend over at least the next two weeks. We turn to the preparatory prayer and the first three Stations: Jesus is condemned to death, Jesus is made to bear his Cross, and Jesus falls the first time. Considering each of these in detail, it is our hope that we may all be able to enter more fully into the Way of the Cross and so increase in love for our Savior who has so loved us! The preparatory prayer My Lord Jesus Christ, Thou hast made this journey to die for me with love unutterable, and I have so many times unworthily abandoned Thee; but now I love Thee with my whole heart, and because I love Thee, I repent sincerely for ever having offended Thee. Pardon me, my God, and permit me to accompany Thee on this journey. Thou goest to die for love of me; I wish also, my beloved Redeemer, to die for love of Thee. My Jesus, I will live and die always united to Thee. Notice how St. Alphonsus begins by directing us to recall to our Savior his “unutterable” love – a love so great as to lead him to die for us! Considering the great love of Christ our God, we are then impelled to make an act of love in return. Indeed, for the Teacher of Prayer, the way of the Cross is principally an act of love which the Christian soul makes for Christ, who has so loved her. Yet, it will not be enough for the soul simply to love her Savior, it is also most necessary that she ask him for graces – indeed, according to St. Alphonsus, the prayer of petition is the goal and end of all meditation. For this reason, we are directed to ask our Savior for pardon and the gift of final perseverance: “My Jesus, I will live and die always united to Thee.” If only we die united to Christ, we shall surely attain eternal life! The First Station: Jesus is condemned to death Consider how Jesus, after having been scourged and crowned with thorns, was unjustly condemned by Pilate to die on the Cross. This brief meditation recalls the history of the event, and directs our minds to the end: “To die on the Cross.” My adorable Jesus, it was not Pilate, no, it was my sins that condemned Thee to die. I beseech Thee, by the merits of this sorrowful journey, to assist my soul in its journey towards eternity. I love Thee, my beloved Jesus; I repent with my whole heart for having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt. St. Alphonsus will not allow the guilt to remain with Pilate, but brings us to acknowledge our own part in Christ’s death: “It was my sins.” Recognizing our sinfulness, but also recalling the Savior’s love for us, we beg the Good Lord for the daily graces which will lead (by God’s mercy) to the ultimate grace of final perseverance: “I beseech Thee to assist my soul in its journey towards eternity.” Considering the great love that Jesus has shown in walking the way of the Cross for us, how could we refrain from asking him for the gift of salvation? Indeed, the love of Christ compels us to ask for this gift, for salvation will be the consummation of our love! The Second Station: Jesus is made to bear his Cross Consider how Jesus, in making this journey with the Cross on His shoulders thought of us, and for us offered to His Father the death He was about to undergo. St. Alphonsus desires to call our attention to the historical fact that Christ was thinking of you and of me as he carried his Cross. He loved each of us (all together and individually) with an intense love – he offered his death to his Father, for our salvation. My most beloved Jesus, I embrace all the tribulations Thou hast destined for me until death. I beseech Thee, by the merits of the pain Thou didst suffer in carrying Thy Cross, to give me the necessary help to carry mine with perfect patience and resignation. I love Thee, Jesus my love; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt. According to the tropological or moral sense, St. Alphonsus connects Christ’s carrying of the Cross with our daily bearing of sufferings and trials. The Saint is inspired by the Savior’s own words: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23). Again, we are directed to ask for grace and help! We petition the Lord for graces; in particular, we now ask for the grace to carry our daily crosses and to unite them to that of our Savior. How prideful it would be for us to look upon our Lord, suffering for our salvation, and yet refrain from asking for this gift which he so longs to give us! The Third Station: Jesus falls the first time Consider this first fall of Jesus under His Cross. His flesh was torn by the scourges, His head crowned with thorns, and He had lost a great quantity of blood. He was so weakened that he could scarcely walk, and yet he had to carry this great load upon His shoulders. The soldiers struck Him rudely, and thus He fell several times in His journey. In this meditation, St. Alphonsus provides more detail than in the first two Stations. Considering the particular pains which our Lord suffered, our hearts are excited to compassionate our Savior. My beloved Jesus, it is not the weight of the Cross, but my sins, which have made Thee suffer so much pain. Ah, by the merits of this first fall, deliver me from the misfortune of falling into mortal sin. I love Thee, O my Jesus, with my whole heart; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt. As in the first Station, we acknowledge that the sufferings which Christ endured in the way of the Cross are not merely the external and historical sufferings inflicted upon him by the Romans and the Jews, but (even more) are the offenses which our sins have been to him. “It is not the weight of the Cross, but my sins, which have made Thee suffer so much pain.” Yet, confident in the love of Christ – a love which is shown in that he loved us and died for us, while we were yet in sin – St. Alphonsus directs us to petition for a fitting grace. As Christ suffered a physical and bodily fall, we beg that, by the merits of this fall, we may be preserved from the spiritual fall which is mortal sin. How important is this prayer of petition! If only we begged ardently for this grace – the grace to ever more avoid all mortal sin – we would certainly be saved! The 4th, 5th and 6th Stations of the Cross, with St. Alphonsus Having already considered St. Alphonsus general approach to the Stations of the Cross, as well as the first three Stations of his Way of the Cross in particular, we know turn to the fourth, fifth and sixth Stations. In these three Stations, we see Jesus interact with three individuals: His Mother, the Cyrenian, and the holy woman Veronica. We too come to meet Christ and accompany him on his sorrowful journey. Let the love which the Savior shows us in this dolorous way, inflame our hearts with a true and holy love in return. The Fourth Station: Jesus meets his afflicted Mother Consider, the meeting of the Son and the Mother, which took place on this journey. Jesus and Mary looked at each other, and their looks became as so many arrows to wound those hearts which loved each other so tenderly. St. Alphonsus is the Marian Doctor – he wrote numerous tracts on Our Lady, both proclaiming her central and indispensible role in the mystery of salvation and directing the faithful to a true devotion of the Blessed Mother. Here, in this short meditation for the fourth Station, St. Alphonsus’ love and devotion for the Queen of Heaven expresses itself in profound compassion and sorrow. My most loving Jesus, by the sorrow Thou didst experience in this meeting, grant me the grace of a truly devoted love for Thy most holy Mother. And thou, my Queen, who wast overwhelmed with sorrow, obtain for me by thy intercession a continual and tender remembrance of the Passion of thy Son. I love Thee, Jesus, my love; I repent of ever having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt. Here, and again at the thirteenth Station, St. Alphonsus addresses his words also to the Blessed Virgin in addition to Christ. Notice, throughout the Stations, the Saint directs us to speak principally to the Lord, but, as all true devotion to Christ passes through Mary, we call out also to the Mother of Sorrows. For St. Alphonsus, what is most important in our meditation on the Passion, is to recognize the love and zeal for souls which compelled Christ to offer himself upon the Cross. As Mary knew this love most intimately, she will instruct the faithful in tender love and devotion. Through her prayer, we who entrust ourselves to her motherly protection will gain “a continual and tender remembrance of the Passion of [her] Son.” The Fifth Station: Simon helps Jesus to carry the Cross Consider that the Jews seeing that at each step Jesus, from weakness, was on the point of expiring, and fearing that He would die on the way when they wished Him to die the ignominious death of the cross, constrained Simon the Cyrenian to carry the cross behind Our Lord. Notice that St. Alphonsus states that the “Jews” forced Simon into service. This, of course, is not quite accurate – since, it was the Roman soldiers who pulled Simon from the crowd. Nevertheless, it may be true insofar as certain Jews are the remote cause of all the events of the Passion. It was their hatred of Jesus which forced Pilate’s hand (not that he really cared much at all about the Lord anyways), and therefore it is their ill-will that led to the events which also “constrained Simon the Cyrenian to carry the cross behind Our Lord.” Moreover, we must emphasize that it was by no means the case that all the Jews hated the Savior: Mary, John and Veronica were all Jews. However, it is worth noting that the Greek term used could also be rendered “Judaeans,” which would indicate the diversity between the Jews of Judea and the Jews of Galilee – this is also evident in the fact that Peter was recognized as a follower of Jesus through his Galilean accent. My most sweet Jesus, I will not refuse the cross as the Cyrenian did; I accept it, I embrace it. I accept in particular the death that Thou hast destined for me with all the pains which may accompany it; I unite it to Thy death, I offer it to Thee. Thou has died for love of me, I will die for love of Thee, and to please Thee. Help me by Thy grace. I love Thee, Jesus, my love; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt. St. Alphonsus accepts the tradition that Simon was truly “constrained” and forced to carry the Cross – not that he did so willingly, but rather out of compulsion. We, on the other hand, join the Lord on his Way not through external compulsion but by the internal impulse of love. Among the many ways in which we are able to accompany the Lord on his sorrowful journey, St. Alphonsus directs us in particular to accepting “the death that [Christ] has destined for [us] with all the pains which may accompany it.” This preparation for a holy death was extremely important in St. Alphonsus’ thought. The grace of final perseverance is THE GRACE which we must ask for each day, it is the only grace that really matters. However, final perseverance is (according to the Doctor of Morals) not merely the last grace but also the whole string of graces which led us to the point of turning to the Lord in our final hour. Considering that Christ has died for love of us, we are filled with confidence in his holy and divine love. Turning to the Savior we beg him for the grace to die for love of him and to please him. The Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus Consider that the holy woman named Veronica, seeing Jesus so afflicted, and His face bathed in sweat and blood, presented Him with a towel with which He wiped His adorable face, leaving on it the impression of His holy countenance. Veronica does not appear in the earliest martyrologies and her cult of veneration developed quite late. The event on the way of the Cross is not found in the Scriptures, and even St. Charles Borromeo excluded her feast from the Milan Missal. The name “Veronica” may come from the combined Latin and Greek: vera (true) and icon (image), referring to the impression of Christ’s Holy Face upon the cloth. Still today, the image is often called “The Veronica.” Nevertheless, both the strong witness of numerous oral traditions as well as of the mystical visions granted to countless saints confirm that this act of compassion did occur. “The holy woman,” whom the Church has “named Veronica” was moved by the great love which Christ our Savior was showing in the Passion and, inspired by grace, “presented him with a towel.” The cloth which bears the image of our Lords holy countenance is said to be kept in Rome at the Basilica of the Vatican, being displayed each year after Palm Sunday vespers for the veneration of the faithful. My most beloved Jesus, Thy face was beautiful before, but in this journey it has lost all its beauty, and wounds and blood have disfigured it. Alas! my soul also was once beautiful, when it received Thy grace in Baptism; but I have disfigured it since by my sins. Thou alone, my Redeemer, canst restore it to its former beauty. Do this by Thy Passion, O Jesus. I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt. St. Alphonsus directs us to a highly tropological or moral understanding of this holy event. As Christ’s Face has been disfigured by blows and pains, so too I have disfigured my soul through sins. Through my own fault, I have lost that baptismal grace which beautifies my soul, but I pray that – as Veronica cleansed the Lord’s Holy Face – the Good Jesus may purify and raise my soul by renewed graces. Notice that the contemplation of the historical event is meant to lead us immediately to the petition of graces. Again, how different this is from Ignatian prayer (and from many other forms of prayer)! Following St. Alphonsus’ method, we do not so much intend to enter the scene or focus on our imaginative powers, but rather we work to excite our heart to acts of charity. Filled with this holy love, we are then able to implore God’s mercy and ask for his grace. The 7th, 8th and 9th Stations of the Cross, with St. Alphonsus We now turn our attention to the next three Stations, in which our Savior falls twice and meets the women of Jerusalem. We have already considered St. Alphonsus’ approach in general, his meditations on the first three Stations, and also on the second set of three. Hence, we now turn to the middle three Stations: The second fall, the encounter with the sorrowful women, and the third fall. In these Stations we see clearly the humanity of our Lord, insofar as he fell several times on his journey; but also we recognize that his divinity is presented to us as well, since he tells the women to weep not for him but for their children. How great indeed is the love of our Jesus, who in the midst of such terrible suffering directs us not so much to pity for himself, but rather to conversion of heart. Let us take counsel from the lesson our Savior has delivered us on this Via Dolorosa. In the Passion of Christ we will find instruction in all the virtues. Inspired by the love of our Lord, we are filled with sorrow and we weep for our sins and for those of the whole world. The 7th Station: Jesus falls the second time Consider the second fall of Jesus under the cross—a fall which renews the pain of all the wounds of the head and members of our afflicted Lord. In his characteristic brevity and simplicity, St. Alphonsus calls to mind the essence of the Station. Notice that the Teacher of Prayer does not dwell extensively on all the details of the Passion – rather, he is content to briefly mention the sufferings endured and to then pass immediately to the acts of love and sorrow. How different is this method of meditation from the Ignation method presented in the Spiritual Exercises! My most gentle Jesus, how many times Thou hast pardoned me, and how many times have I fallen again, and begun again to offend Thee! Oh, by the merits of this new fall, give me the necessary helps to persevere in Thy grace until death. Grant that in all temptations which assail me I may always commend myself to Thee. I love Thee, Jesus, my love, with my whole heart; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt. We are not surprised to find the Saint offer a moralistic interpretation of the second fall: As our Savior fell many times physically, so we have fallen many times morally. Moreover, as is characteristic of Alphonsian spirituality, we are directed to implore the grace of final perseverance: “Give me the necessary helps to persevere in thy grace until death.” St. Alphonsus is convinced that, as we consider the sorrowful passion which our Lord endured, we will be inspired to ask with the greatest confidence for the grace of heaven. But this grace – the grace of final perseverance – is not merely turning to the Lord at the last second, but includes also the many graces throughout our lives which maintain that fundamental relationship with the Lord. Final perseverance is more about living a good life than about a deathbed conversion. In this respect, the Doctor of Morals shows his eminent practicality. The 8th Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem Consider that those women wept with compassion at seeing Jesus in so pitiable a state, streaming with blood, as He walked along. But Jesus said to them, "Weep not for Me but for your children." As we consider the weeping women, we recognize in them the symbol of ourselves as we accompany Christ on his sorrowful journey. Looking upon the sufferings of our Savior, we cannot help but weep; but the Lord directs us, together with these women, to weep more on account of our sins (which he calls your “children”) which caused the Passion than for the reality of the Way of the Cross itself. Indeed, by this Holy Way, our Lord gained for us the remission of all sin – hence, it is a most blessed path. My Jesus, laden with sorrows, I weep for the offenses that I have committed against Thee, because of the pains which they have deserved, and still more because of the displeasure which they have caused Thee, Who hast loved me so much. It is Thy love, more than the fear of hell, which causes me to weep for my sins. My Jesus, I love Thee more than myself; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt. St. Alphonsus directs us to make a perfect act of contrition: Weeping for our sins not merely because they ought to have gained for us eternal damnation, but even more because they have caused sorrow to him whom we ought to love above all else. The Saint does not speak of our love for God so much as an obligation, but as a response to his infinite love – on this account he directs us to invoke the Lord as “thee, who hast loved me so much.” Far more than for fear of punishment – which is itself extremely great – we weep because we have offend the love of God, because we have rejected this love many times. The only response to such love is an act of perfect love in return. This St. Alphonsus begs of the Lord as he says, “Grant that I may love thee always; and then do with me what thou wilt.” The 9th Station: Jesus falls the third time Consider the third fall of Jesus Christ. His weakness was extreme, and the cruelty of His executioners excessive, who tried to hasten His steps when He had scarcely strength to move. In his entirely unsentimental approach, St. Alphonsus imitates the Gospels which relate our Lord’s Passion in the simplest of terms. The Saint does not so much enter the scene through extensive use of his imagination, but simply states that Jesus’ “weakness was extreme, and the cruelty of his executioners excessive.” Ah, my outraged Jesus, by the merits of the weakness Thou didst suffer in going to Calvary, give me strength sufficient to conquer all human respect and all my wicked passions, which have led me to despise Thy friendship. I love Thee, Jesus, my love, with my whole heart; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt. Here St. Alphonsus directs us to immediately petition the Lord for graces. Rather than lingering in the construction of the biblical scene or even so much considering the love of the Lord which led him to undergo such suffering, we are moved to petition for the graces necessary to overcome all sins. Both external struggles (“all human respect”) and internal struggles (“all my wicked passions”) can be conquered through the grace merited by our Savior’s Passion. Moreover, the Doctor recalls that we have a “friendship” with God, and this is something most important to recognize. In his own time, St. Alphonsus’ spirituality was characterized by his insistence that we humans must approach the Lord not simply as our Creator and Judge, but also as our true friend and father. Certainly, we must bow humbly before the divine majesty, but St. Alphonsus emphasized the necessity of “continual and familiar conversation with God.” In this regard, his work How to converse continually and familiarly with God is an excellent introduction to his particular spirituality. Considering that our Savior has suffered so much in our behalf, and that he did not hesitate to take on our sinful flesh and come among us as a man, how could we remain far from him? No, indeed, the love of Christ compels us to enter into a most intimate relationship of friendship with the Lord. True prayer is characterized by this communion of hearts: Our heart united to his most Sacred Heart. The 10th, 11th, and 12th Stations of the Cross, with St. Alphonsus In these three Stations, we have all the events immediately surrounding the Crucifixion presented to us: Jesus is stripped of his garments, he is nailed to the Cross, and he dies. Certainly, these three Stations, and especially the 12th Station, are the heart of the Way of the Cross. Now more than ever, we witness the infinite love of our Savior, and we are inspired to make an act of perfect love in return. In previous articles we considered the first, second, and third sets of three. It will be particularly helpful to recall what we said in our introduction to St. Alphonsus’ Way of the Cross. The Doctor of Morals generally has only a brief meditation in which he does relatively little to “construct the scene” with his imagination, but instead tends to focus upon the affective elements (the internal movements of the will toward love, contrition, compassion, etc.). To this end, St. Alphonsus often gives a tropological or moral interpretation of the Station and then directs us to petition for some grace. Among the graces to plead, the grace of final perseverance (which is the grace of being admitted to heaven) is of highest importance and deserves special prominence. My Lord Jesus Christ, Thou hast made this journey to die for me with love unutterable […] permit me to accompany Thee on this journey. Thou goest to die for love of me; I wish also, my beloved Redeemer, to die for love of Thee. My Jesus, I will live and die always united to Thee. (From the Preparatory Prayer) The 10th Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments Consider the violence with which the executioners stripped Jesus. His inner garments adhered to His torn flesh and they dragged them off so roughly that the skin came with them. Compassionate your Saviour thus cruelly treated, and say to Him: This is certainly one of the most vivid of the meditations which St. Alphonsus offers – speaking of how the “torn flesh” our Christ was torn off together which the garments. How excruciating this pain must have been! The Teacher of Prayer, considering the terrible pains which our Savior endured, breads his usual practice and directly addresses the faithful who are making the stations. Here alone, during the consideration of the tenths Station, does St. Alphonsus direct us to speak to our Savior during the mediation portion of the Station. Only this one time does St. Alphonsus instruct us, “and say to him:” My innocent Jesus, by the merits of the torment which Thou hast felt, help me to strip myself of all affection to things of earth, in order that I may place all my love in Thee, Who art so worthy of my love. I love Thee, O Jesus, with my whole heart: I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt. Immediately, inspired by the affective movements of compassion and love, St. Alphonsus offers a moral interpretation of the event: As Christ was stripped of his garments, so may we be stripped of our attachments to the world. Being freed from the consolations of the secular world, we are then able to love the Lord more perfectly. All our efforts are directed to this one end: that we may place all our love in Jesus, who is so worthy of our love. The 11th Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross Consider that Jesus, after being thrown on the cross, extended His hands, and offered to His eternal Father the sacrifice of His life for our salvation. These barbarians fastened Him with nails; and then, raising the cross, left Him to die with anguish on this infamous gibbet. In the meditation on the 11th Station, we cannot help but recall St. Alphonsus words in contemplating the 2nd Station (Jesus is made to bear the Cross). There he had said, “Consider that Jesus […] offered for us, to his Father, the death that he was about to undergo.” Here again, in the only other time the Father is mentioned, St. Alphonsus reminds us that Jesus “offered to his eternal Father the sacrifice of his life for our salvation.” As the 2nd Station begins the actual journey itself, since it is only at that time the Jesus takes up the Cross and starts along the Via Dolorosa; so too the 11th Station marks the end of that journey, since in his earthly existence the Savior will walk no more, having been firmly fastened to the Cross. The barbarous soldiers nail the Savior and leave him to die, but we do not now abandon him. Rather, considering the great love of Christ, we remain close to the Savior and offer him acts of compassion and love. My Jesus, loaded with contempt, nail my heart to Thy feet, that it may ever remain there to love Thee, and never quit Thee again. I love Thee more than myself; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt. Here we have the most moving sentiments of love, “nail my heart to thy feet, that it may ever remain there to love thee, and never quit thee again.” This is the whole petition of the 11th Station; after this, St. Alphonsus returns again to repeat his lines of love which come (with some slight variation) at the end of each Station. The 12th Station: Jesus dies on the Cross Consider how thy Jesus, after three hours of agony on the cross, consumed at length with anguish, abandons Himself to the weight of His body, bows His head, and dies. Notice again the incredible simplicity and brevity of St. Alphonsus’ meditations. Suggesting to our minds the core realities of the mystery of Christ’s death, the Teacher of Prayer does not dwell on details – yet, his concise words fill us with such grief! “After three hours of agony on the Cross” – St. Alphonsus follows the tradition, which is rooted in the Gospels, that the Lord hung upon the Cross from twelve until three in the afternoon. Mark states that Christ was crucified at the third hour (Mark 15:25), which would seem to be around nine or ten o’clock. St. Thomas Aquinas, whom St. Alphonsus followed as a sure guide, tells us that the crowd crucified Christ in their hearts at that hour, for it was then that they cried out, Crucify him! Crucify him! But, it was not till noon that the soldiers actually nailed him to the tree. The Douay-Rheims commentary, on the other hand, states that the period named after the third hour of the day extended till nearly noon – in this way reconciling the Gospel accounts. O my dying Jesus, I kiss devoutly the cross on which Thou didst die for love of me. I have merited by my sins to die a miserable death, but Thy death is my hope. Ah, by the merits of Thy death, give me grace to die, embracing Thy feet and burning with love of Thee. I commit my soul into Thy hands. I love Thee with my whole heart; I repent of ever having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt. St. Alphonsus pours forth little acclamations of love. Considering that Christ our Savior died for us, we cannot help but be moved to similar sentiments. Though we deserved to die the death which Christ endured – indeed, we deserve to die a much more horrible death – the death of Jesus is our “hope.” As we contemplate the Savior’s final moments of life, it is no surprise that St. Alphonsus is moved to petition the grace of final perseverance: “Give me the grace to die, embracing they feet.” Moreover, the Lord’s words to his eternal Father are meant to be internalized by us and offered back to Jesus: “I commit my soul into thy hands.” “My most sweet Jesus […] Thou hast died for love of me, I will die for love of thee, and to please thee. Help me by thy grace.” (From the 5th Station) The final two Stations of the Cross, with St. Alphonsus In his consideration of these last two Stations (in which Jesus is taken down from the Cross and laid in the tomb), St. Alphonsus’ love and devotion for the Blessed Virgin Mary becomes most evident. And this should be no surprise to us; he is, after all, the “Marian Doctor.” Having already discussed all of the previous Stations of St. Alphonsus’ Way of the Cross, here, here, here, here, and here; we now turn to our final post on the Via Dolorosa. This article on the 13th and 14th Stations will conclude our series. The 13th Station: Jesus is taken down from the Cross Consider that, our Lord having expired, two of His disciples, Joseph and Nicodemus, took Him down from the cross, and placed Him in the arms of His afflicted Mother, who received Him with unutterable tenderness, and pressed Him to her bosom. Once again, for the first time since the fourth Station, we return to our Lord’s most Sorrowful Mother. Separated from Christ by the crowd and the soldiers, she is at last re- united to her son. Here, the words which Archbishop Fulton Sheen addresses to our Lady are quite moving: “Bethlehem is Jesus, as you, his sinless mother, gave him to the world; Calvary is Jesus, as the sinful world gave him back to you. Something intervened between your giving at the manger and your receiving at the Cross, and that which intervened is my sins. Mary, this is not your hour; it is my hour – my hour of wickedness and sin. If I had not sinned, death would not now hover on its black wings about his crimsoned body […] Mary, it is I who stand between his birth and his redemptive death.” (taken from The Seven Last Words) O Mother of Sorrow, for the love of this Son, accept me for thy servant and pray to Him for me. And Thou, my Redeemer, since Thou hast died for me, permit me to love Thee; for I wish but Thee, my Jesus, and I repent of ever having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt. For the second and final time, St. Alphonsus addresses the Blessed Virgin directly. He calls her the “Mother of Sorrow,” and indeed she is. According to a moral interpretation, St. Alphonsus implores our Lady to receive him just as she received the dead Jesus, holding him in her arms and pressing him to her bosom. Only through his prior consideration of the “unutterable tenderness” of the Mother and the “love unutterable” of her Son, can St. Alphonsus dare to ask this great favor. Trusting not in our own merits, but in the love and mercy of almighty God which is communicated to us through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we beg the Good Lord’s pardon and make some small act of love in return. The 14th Station: Jesus is laid in his tomb Consider that the disciples carried the body of Jesus to bury it, accompanied by His holy Mother, who arranged it in the sepulchre with her own hands. They then closed the tomb and all withdrew. While the Gospel accounts relate that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepared the body of Jesus for burial and laid it in the tomb, St. Alphonsus recalls the venerable tradition that the Blessed Mary was central to this activity as well. Indeed, it is most reasonable to suppose this: How could a mother stand by as her own beloved son is buried? Recalling, in this final Station, the significant role which Mary played in Christ’s life, the Marian Doctor brings us to consider her tender actions in burying her son and her Savior: “[She] arranged [his body] in the sepulcher with her own hands.” Those hand which first wrapped the Christ in swaddling clothes, now wrap him in burial bands. “Is there one who would not weep, whelmed in miseries so deep? Christ’s dear mother to behold.” (from the Stabat Mater) Oh, my buried Jesus, I kiss the stone that encloses Thee. But Thou didst rise again the third day. I beseech Thee, by Thy resurrection, make me rise glorious with Thee at the last day, to be always united with Thee in heaven, to praise Thee and love Thee forever. I love Thee, and I repent of ever having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee; and then do with me what Thou wilt. St. Alphonsus invokes the dead body of Jesus directly, “Oh, my buried Jesus.” Indeed, he is right to do so, since the divine person of the Eternal Word remained united to the lifeless body which was laid in the tomb. Just as we may rightly plead the mercy of the blood and water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus (in the chaplet Divine Mercy), so too we may pray to the entombed body of our Savior. Though his soul is no longer present, the person of Jesus, which is the Eternal Word himself, lay dead (i.e. personally united to a corpse) within the tomb. And, although the practice of adding a 15th Station for the Resurrection is to be ignored and, when possible, rooted out; the Doctor of Morals cannot help but call to mind our faith in Jesus’ Resurrection. It is the bodily Resurrection of our Savior which is the efficient cause of our own glorification in the general resurrection on the Last Day. Thus, the Teacher of Prayer leaves us looking toward Heaven, toward the great hope to be fulfilled in Life Everlasting.
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