Rational Technology for March 26, 2006
Try as I might to alter the focus of the story, it's always the Fourth Station that gets to me. Every single time. How can it not? Listen:
The Condemned Man bears down the dusty streets, staggering underneath the load on his shoulders. He has not had any sleep the night before, dragged from one authority to another in their pretense of justice. He has been savagely beaten. His friends are nowhere to be found. One thing alone is certain: He is going to die. The road leading up to the hill is the final journey, and it is going to be along walk.
From among the crowd, a familiar and loving face appears, now stricken with grief. Mother! He pauses, and briefly the jeering mob falls silent as their hardened hearts give way to a brief moment of tenderness. They grant these two innocents a final moment of farewell.
Hers is a pain that only a mother can feel. Her only son has been savaged and flayed. His face has been disfigured beyond recognition. What have they done to you, my son? she asks through silent tears. And now the words of the old man come rushing back to her: "Thy own heart a sword shall pierce...."
His is a pain that only a son can feel, too. What son, after all, wishes to visit such anguish upon his mother? But this is His destiny, one which He has chosen to embrace, and now He will not shirk from it even though He could call upon a legion of angels to His defense. The words of His childhood come rushing back to Him: "Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?"
The reunion is painfully brief. The crowd takes up their chants again, and once more He is on His way.
This is the scene immortalized in the Fourth Station of the Way of the Cross. Whether Jesus actually met His mother on that road to Golgotha is open to some debate. In the New Way of the Cross, which adheres more closely to the Gospel accounts, it is a scene that is dropped altogether. And while the New Way of the Cross has its own merits, I cannot help but think that it also lost something in the process of doing so.
Such a meeting would certainly have been in character for such loving but willful personalities, and it certainly makes the story more human. After all, how many times has this scene been repeated in one way or another in our experience?
Really, isn't that what the Way of the Cross is all about? This is the whole tableau of human suffering condensed into the space of a few hours: rejection, judicial murder, physical abuse, verbal abuse, desertion, unexpected friendships, a touch of comedy, loss of control, poverty, theft, and ultimately, death? And not just condensed, but divinized, too. God is saying: "Look! I suffer, too, because of evil! And as I suffer, I give meaning to your suffering...."
It's the season of Lent, and this is the time to consider these matters. The Way of the Cross is a valuable tradition of the Church, and too often it goes unused, or lost in the verbiage of communal prayer. And while communal prayer has its place, the Way of the Cross, like the Holy Rosary, ought to be foremost a tool of meditation.
So in this season, visit a church when it's quiet and spend some time travelling the Sorrowful Way. See what wonders there are to see. You don't need to be Mel Gibson to do it.