Because of the Living Stations of the Cross

I have a confession to make: the Stations of the Cross used to creep me out. Only in the past year have I begun to understand their beauty and significance. And that is thanks to the Living Stations of the Cross presented by the teens of the  St. Rose of Lima high school youth group in Freehold, New Jersey.

When I was a child, I didn’t want any part of Palm Sunday or Holy Week, or especially Stations of the Cross. That is because to me they were all about this wonderful person, the Son of God, who was murdered most gruesomely. In contrast, I loved Christmas. My dad sang at Christmas Masses and our family of six often would attend Midnight Masses. What a treat to stay up so late and celebrate Christmas, a holiday I understood was about love, about a baby born in inauspicious and unusual circumstances who turns out to be the Savior of the World. It made me feel warm inside.

As for Holy Week, our parents did not take us to Holy Thursday or Good Friday masses. Until I was a mom myself, I never attended Stations of the Cross. And so they remained to me scary images I avoided looking at on the side walls of Catholic churches.

Throughout  my life, the lead-up to Easter was this icky thing, hidden from my view and understanding. And the one Easter Mass I remember attending as a child (though our parents took us every Easter) was when I was eight or so. We were late to Mass and could not find a parking spot at our parish. So my dad drove us over to a church in a neighboring town. I remember the priest intoning during his homily, “You are one Easter closer to your death.” I imagine now that the priest must have said lots of other things—about the Resurrection and the possibility of our own salvation—but that was all I heard. His words terrified me for years.

Because of my spiritual and emotional immaturity, not for nearly four more decades could I begin to fully confront Christ’s suffering, and through that, mature in my faith. Last Lent, a friend and fellow parishioner, Dan Finaldi, invited the Saint Rose of Lima high school youth group in Freehold, one county over, to present Living Stations of the Cross at our parish. Dan is a high school art teacher in Freehold and learned about the project from some of his students.

I didn’t even want to go. But as part of their CCD requirements, our sons had to attend a Stations of the Cross during Lent. This felt like a palatable way to do it. After all, if a bunch of Jersey teens could spend days living the Stations in rehearsal, surely this middle-aged woman would be able to emotionally handle watching a presentation of the Stations. And so I went.

I didn’t even know what “Living Stations” meant. Were the teens going to walk around the church, stop at each station, and reenact it by flashlight? No. Teen actors used the front of our church to create tableaux, station by station. From the ambo, other teens interspersed descriptions of each scene with prayerful meditations on how that event on the road to Calvary related to their own faith journey. From the choir loft, teen musicians, including an electric guitarist and a drummer, sang contemporary hymns and popular tunes that related directly to the meditations.

This approach was a big help to me. At long last, I understood that we cannot fully embrace the message of Christianity unless we embrace Christ’s suffering for us. Stations, as our 10-year-old put it, “is about the road to His death, which, in the end, saves us all.” Last night he came with me and my friend Andy to Living Stations. This time, I meditated on the depth of suffering Christ’s mother endured, and about the kindness of strangers Christ encountered on his journey home. “We cannot take your place,” the teens read. “But help us find our place in the world.”

At the Sixth Station,  in which Veronica wipes the face of Jesus,  a lone teen sang Jewel’s “Hands.”  I thank God for the high school youth group at Saint Rose of Lima for helping me grow up.

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  • Stefanie

    I agree, Allison, we Catholics need to re-embrace the power of the Stations. We always invite the parents to come along with us when I do an interactive stations of the cross which I've already described in a previous post. Actually, I got the idea from an Christian "emergent" church in Santa Cruz, California. Photos of it were posted on their church website. Each Lent, for Holy Week, they would take over one of the busiest streets in town and put in a Stations of the Cross right there — amidst the regular storefronts and restaurants–for everyone to see and reflect upon. I couldn't believe that a non-Catholic church was doing this. Why wasn't the local Catholic parish involved? Had the Stations really lost their meaning?So, I decided to experiment with it at my own parish with just the RCIA group. Now it has expanded to our CCD kids and their families. We needn't be afraid of Stations — it is like being afraid of the Rosary — both tell such powerful stories of the foundations of our Christian faith.By the way, for the first time in several years, the emergent church did NOT do the stations this year. Pressure from the city? Such a loss.I'd love to do a Stations for our little city — my idea is to use all the Christian churches on the main street in town for each station, so that one would truly travel. But…when I proposed this to our staff, they were very opposed to taking the Stations 'out into the world.'

  • Daniel Finaldi

    Visual,performing and musical arts have been one of the most significant vehicles through which the ineffable qualities of our faith have been communicated. Each art form brings to the faithful a depth of knowing that is more profound and experiential as well as intellectual. We Catholics have had many tools at our disposal for accessing our faith and for communicating our faith. Each culture from every age and from every region has their own unique touch for expression. How we express our faith can be totally different and yet at the same time completely Catholic. The glue for all of us is the Catholic faith, but the form or style that we use communicates our own unique beauty. We are not cookie cutout shaped figures. That's not how art operates in a powerful way -or in any age or in any great art movement.Beauty brings us to God. The Living Stations allowed for young people in the St Rose of Lima Youth Group to engage in their artistic gifts of singing and performance to bring to life the tradition of the Stations of the Cross. It also is an incredible witness of faith. Both combine to work powerfully as a means to bring us ever closer to Christ. And this is, in my opinion, our daily goal especially during this season.The arts are among the greatest gifts that the Transcendent God gives us for "seeing " Him in our reality. But we also know as St Paul has written that, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him."It is through the gift of the arts that we inch closer to communion with God. This communion begins with our sacramental life and envelopes our every desire. In my view as an artist, the creative process is God's way of offering us another set of eyes to see Him.

  • Frank

    Good stuff Dan. This too is interesting with a video. Benedict XVI Invites Artists to the Vatican.

  • Sarah Harkins

    Your 10 year old has some wise words! I was Veronica in the Living Stations at F.U.S. so that station always strikes a cord with me. Have a Blessed Holy Week!

  • Allison

    @Sarah: He surprises me sometimes! I don't know how long "living stations" have been around in their current format. (Obviously, they have been around for thousands of years) How neat you did that at college. For some reason, the Veronica story got to me – she didn't know him; couldn't possibly have known him, and yet she showed such kindness.@Dan and everyone else: I love that our church recognizes we experience God through all our senses, including the visual…

  • wendy

    I went to my first living stations this year. This is the first year I have attended several stations during Lent and I have found in the 7 years since joining the church the "catholic" tools such as stations embeding themselves into me deeper and deeper. This live one was deeply moving and I wept openly with the combination of visual and auditory presentation. I love the Matt Maher song "Behold the Lamb of God" and it moves me often during Holy Communion but to sing it while looking at the 12th Station – oh my. Praise God for our wonderful church that gives us so many wonderful ways to reflect on what our Savior has done for us!