Note: the full text of these reflections on the Stations of the Cross are available here.
Do the laundry, wash the dishes, feed the dog, get to work on time, support your family, do homework, make dinner, get to practice…oh, yes, and be sure to pray together, too. With as hectic as our lives have become in our culture, not to mention the responsibilities of regular married and family life, it is unsurprising that our prayer time as a family is something we often neglect. Even when the liturgical calendar provides us with extra incentive and opportunities, it can be difficult to make time for prayer. Perhaps if that prayer time was not simply another task on our “to-do” list, if it instead provided the grace to handle the rest of our tasks, maybe even busy families could find time to pray.
The Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross
It really comes down to a question of goals. What are our goals for our families and lives? Do we want to become famous, be admired and revered, wield great power and influence, accumulate untold wealth? What about helping each other grow in holiness? Challenging each other to more loving relationships? Bearing wrongs patiently and modeling forgiveness? What about helping each other get to heaven? How different would our lives be if these were our goals? As we follow Jesus, taking up our cross as he accepts his, we know that this is not the end; rather, this is the way that leads to eternal life.
As I served in my own parish and encountered the families therein, this thought of creating enriching family prayer spurred me to write a booklet, Stations of the Cross for Marriages and Families. I wanted to reflect on the Way of the Cross in light of those who are preparing for marriage or those who are already a family and trying their best to live up to their vows and calling. How might Jesus’ condemnation, suffering, death, and unconditional love guide us to holy family living? As a husband and father, writing these reflections helped refocus my own gaze in terms of my primary vocation, and I wanted to share these insights with others in case they would also find them helpful.
The Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time
Inherently, living as families means that there will be conflict. We are a group of imperfect, sinful people with various personalities who live together and try to make it work. There is, at the same time, inherent nobility in this effort because it speaks of our love and commitment to one another. How do we press on after knocking each other down or stumbling ourselves? This is the grace of Christ’s sacrifice—he has taken all our sins upon his shoulders. In his humanity, he even buckled under the weight of our sins. We can take solace, then, that Jesus knew our weakness, experienced its consequences, and still provided us a model of perseverance and a way to true freedom. Drawing our strength from God’s grace, we stand up together and continue along the way.
Praying the Stations of the Cross has a rich tradition in the Catholic Church. While there has been devotion to the holy sites in and around Jerusalem since the foundational events of Christianity took place there, our modern practice of the Via Crucis has its origins in medieval times. The Franciscans, long-time caretakers of the Holy Land, receive credit for popularizing this practice of following Jesus on the Way. Given its now ubiquitous presence in Catholic churches around the world, the devotion has proved both lasting and beneficial for generations of the faithful. Christ implores us, “Take up your cross, and follow me.” This is our daily call as Christians, but we reflect on it in intentional prayer when we pray the Stations. And while a common custom is to pray them on Fridays during Lent, the grace and benefits of this practice are useful to us throughout the year.
The Eleventh Station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Finally, the reality of our sins takes tangible form. The little hurts, the lies, the cheating, the laying blame, the insults, and the insecurities—all are there in those nails. They bring pain and suffering as we nail Jesus to the cross. Yet, if he cries out, he cries out not in protest but in willing acceptance. His sacrifice is a profound one, as he freely gives of his life and receives the nails we intend for each other or even ourselves. May this image of our sin spur us to conversion, and may we always be filled with gratitude when we consider Jesus’ gift.
In sharing these excerpts of my reflections with you, I hope to lead you in your relationships, marriages, and families to an introduction or recommitment to shared prayer. Even as I write this, I am considering how my wife, children, and I might better take advantage of this bedrock of our family life. You are certainly welcome to purchase the complete reflections (available at the link above), but no matter what resources you utilize for your prayer as a family, know that your time is well spent. I leave you with a final meditation on the death of Jesus, and my prayer as you contemplate it is that the redemptive power of Christ’s sacrifice will heal whatever wounds mark your lives and vocations.
The Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross
Look at the cross as it holds the bruised and bleeding body of our Lord and Savior. How is it that this instrument of torture and shame could bring about our salvation, our lasting hope? It is because of the power of God’s transformative grace. It transforms our lives of sin into lives of holiness, our feuding families into models of sacred family life, our selfish tendencies into acts of selflessness, and our confused sadness into everlasting joy. We cling to Jesus’ death on the cross, this ultimate example of unconditional love, as our refuge in a world full of broken relationships, broken homes, and broken-down people. Christ’s sacrifice is so powerful that it overcomes all of these and ushers in opportunities for peace, for reconciliation, for lasting joy. Truly, by his holy cross, Jesus has redeemed the world.
About the Author:
A recipient of both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Divinity degree from the University of Notre Dame, Daniel previously served as the Director of Religious Education at Saint Pius X Catholic Church in Granger, Indiana. His writing interests largely center on Catholic spirituality and theology, particularly the Christian answer to the question of human suffering. Originally from Hays, Kansas, he and his wife Stephanie currently reside with their children in South Bend, Indiana. For more of his writings, visit faithfamilyfatherhood.blogspot.com.