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.