Relating the Cross to Married and Family Life
by David Gibson
“Each family has its own way of the cross, marked by sickness, death, financial troubles, poverty, betrayal, wrongdoing, clashes with relatives, natural disasters,” the thousands of participants in the April 6 annual, late-night Way of the Cross at Rome’s historic Colosseum heard in a series of meditations related to the lives of married couples and families.
At the request of Pope Benedict XVI, Danilo and Annamaria Zanzucchi, an Italian couple married 59 years, composed this year’s meditations for the 14 Stations of the Cross. The Zanzucchis have five children and are grandparents of 12.
The couple “wanted to make sure that these texts bore the mark of a lived Christian experience and, at the same time, reflected our understanding of the Passion as it has developed through years of contact with thousands of couples.”
“Even in families, at the most difficult times when momentous decisions must be made, if peace dwells in our hearts, if we heed and understand what God desires for us, then a light shines upon us, helping us to see matters clearly and to carry our cross,” the Zanzucchis wrote in a meditation for the fifth station of the cross, when Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross.
Viewing Jesus’ experience of his death as a gift “for me, for us, for our families, for each person, for every family, for all peoples and for the entire human race,” a meditation for the 12th station addressed Jesus on the cross directly, saying:
“Only by looking to you, only in union with you, can we face tragedies, innocent suffering, humiliation, abuse and death.”
Pope Benedict XVI presided at Rome’s Way of the Cross. In remarks at its conclusion, he called the cross a source of “courage and strength” for families in the face of trouble and pain. “The mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection inspires us to go on in hope,” he said.
All people everywhere, and “the family too,” are touched by the experience of suffering and of the cross,” Pope Benedict observed. He said:
“How often does the journey become wearisome and difficult! Misunderstandings, conflicts, worry for the future of our children, sickness and problems of every kind. These days too, the situation of many families is made worse by the threat of unemployment and other negative effects of the economic crisis.”
Meanings of the Cross
The Zanzucchis are members of the Focolare Movement and cofounded its New Families Movement. Among its ministries to families, the New Families initiative extends care to couples in crisis.
Perhaps the following meditation, written for the first station, reflected that Focolare concern:
“More than a few of our families suffer because of betrayal by a spouse, the person we hold dearest. Whatever became of the joy of being close, of living in unison? What happened to the sense of being completely one?”
The cross of Jesus was viewed in the 2012 meditations not only as a gift and source of courage, but an event to learn from and a model for the followers of Jesus.
Participants were invited at the outset to “enter once more into Jesus’ final experience on earth, … one in which Jesus distilled the most precious lessons of his life and teaching.” The Zanzucchis wrote that “in this way we can learn to live our own lives fully, on the model of his own.”
The cross also was viewed in the meditations as a:
- Stimulus to serve others: “Often we live lives anesthetized by prosperity, without making a strenuous effort to rise or to help humanity to rise,” said a meditation for the ninth station, when Jesus falls a third time. It added, “Our families are also a part of this threadbare fabric, tied to a life of ease which becomes the goal of life itself.”
- Call to respect life: Jesus is stripped of his garments in order “to humiliate him, to reduce him to nothing,” a meditation for the 10th station stated. “Jesus, who let himself be exposed in this way … reminds us of the grandeur of the human person and the dignity which God gives” to all.
- Invitation to conversion: What Jesus wants from those who feel sorrow at his death is “not simply pity, but heartfelt conversion, a conversion which acknowledges past failures, seeks forgiveness and begins a new life,” commented a meditation for the eighth station.
Love: Suffering Transformed
The meditations cautioned against adding to the pain of the cross. Again addressing Jesus, a meditation for the second station said:
“We who are spouses and our families have also added cruelly to the burden you must bear: when we failed to love one another, when we blamed one another, when we refused to forgive one another, when we did not begin anew to love one another.”
Pride is a problem in such situations, the meditation continued. For, “we want to be always right, we demean those close to us, even those who have united their lives to our own.”
On Calvary, Jesus embodied “all of us” and “taught us to love,” said a meditation for the 11th station, where Jesus is nailed to the cross. In gazing at Jesus on the cross, “families, husbands and wives, parents and children, gradually learn to love one another,” it added.
They learn, moreover, to cultivate around themselves an “openness which generously gives and gratefully receives – an openness capable of suffering and of transforming suffering into love.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.