The Stations of the Cross

Last night we commemorated the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Judas and His capture by Sanhedrin officials. All this following a night He spent in prayer in Gethsemane, with the Father and a couple of sleepy Apostles for company. In the night, He prayed for His people and also for Himself. His fear at what He know was to come made Him ask His Father to let the cup pass from His lips, but “not my will, but yours”.

Today we walk the Stations of the Cross, the fourteen stages of Christ’s death on the Cross, from His conviction by Pontius Pilate to His burial. These fourteen stations are illustrated below. The photos are details from the station in the St. Joseph cathedral in Groningen (originally taken for a different Good Friday project for which I lacked the time, and I hope you’ll excuse the bad lighting conditions in some) and the texts are snippets from prayer sand meditations written for the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome, written by Camillo Cardinal Ruini, which you can read in full here.

FIRST STATION – Jesus is condemned to death

“Jesus died for our sins. And on an even deeper level, he died for us, he died because God loves us and he loves us even to giving us his only Son, that we might have life through him (cf. Jn 3:16-17)”.

SECOND STATION – Jesus carries His cross

“[I]n our conscience shines the light of goodness, a light which in many cases is bright and guides us, fortunately, in our decisions. But often the opposite occurs: this light becomes obscured by resentment, by unspeakable cravings, by the perversion of our heart. And then we become cruel, capable of the worst, even of things unbelievable”.

THIRD STATION – Jesus falls for the firs time

“Jesus did not refuse physical suffering and thus he entered into solidarity with the whole human family, especially all the many people whose lives, even today, are filled with this kind of pain. As we watch him fall beneath his cross, let us humbly ask him for the courage to break open, in a solidarity which goes beyond mere words, the narrowness of our hearts”.

FOURTH STATION – Jesus meets His Mother

“Mary becomes the Mother of us all, the Mother of every man and woman for whom Jesus shed his blood. Here motherhood is a living sign of God’s love and mercy for us. Because of this, the bonds of affection and trust uniting the Christian people to Mary are deep and strong. As a result, we have recourse to her spontaneously, especially at the most difficult times of our lives”.

FIFTH STATION – Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross

“[W]hat seemed at first to be merely a stroke of bad luck or a tragedy not infrequently is shown to be a door which opens in our lives, leading to a greater good. But it is not always like this: many times, in this world, tragedies remain simply painful failures. Here again Jesus has something to tell us: after the cross, he rose from the dead, and he rose as the firstborn among many brethren (cf. Rom 8:29; 1Cor 15:20). His cross can not be separated from his resurrection. Only by believing in the resurrection can we meaningfully advance along the way of the cross”.

SIXTH STATION – Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

“In the suffering face of Jesus we […] see another accumulation: that of human suffering. And so Veronica’s gesture of pity becomes a challenge to us, an urgent summons. It becomes a gentle but insistent demand not to turn away but to look with our own eyes at those who suffer, whether close at hand or far away. And not merely to look, but also to help”.

SEVENTH STATION – Jesus falls for the second time

“[L]et us ask God, humbly yet confidently: Father, rich in mercy, help us not to add more weight to the cross of Jesus. In the words of Pope John Paul II, who died five years ago tonight: “the limit imposed upon evil, of which man is both perpetrator and victim, is ultimately Divine Mercy” (Memory and Identity, p. 60)”.

EIGHTH STATION – Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

“It is Jesus who takes pity on the women of Jerusalem, and on all of us. Even as he carries the cross, Jesus remains the man who had compassion on the crowd (cf. Mk 8:2), who broke into tears before the tomb of Lazarus (cf. Jn 11:35), and who proclaimed blessed those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (cf. Mt 5:4)”.

NINTH STATION – Jesus falls for the third time

“In our efforts to identify ourselves completely with Jesus as he walks and falls beneath the cross, it is right for us to have feelings of repentance and sorrow. But stronger still should be the feeling of gratitude welling up in our hearts”.

TENTH STATION – Jesus is stripped of His garments

“As we look upon Jesus naked on the cross, we feel deep within us a compelling need to look upon our own nakedness, to stand spiritually naked before ourselves, but first of all before God and before our brothers and sisters in humanity. We need to be stripped of the pretence of appearing better than we are, and to seek to be sincere and transparent”.

ELEVENTH STATION – Jesus is nailed to the cross

“How many times, when we are tested, we think that we have been forgotten or abandoned by God. Or are even tempted to decide that God does not exist. The Son of God, who drank his bitter chalice to the dregs and then rose from the dead, tells us, instead, with his whole self, by his life and by his death, that we ought to trust in God. We can believe him”.

TWELFTH STATION – Jesus dies on the cross

“In truth, nothing is as dark and mysterious as the death of the Son of God, who with God the Father is the source and fullness of life. Yet at the same time, nothing shines so brightly, for here the glory of God shines forth, the glory of all-powerful and merciful Love”.

THIRTEENTH STATION – Jesus is taken down from the cross and placed in the arms of His Mother

“As we remember that Mary, standing at the foot of the cross, also became the mother of each one of us, we ask her to put into our hearts the feelings that unite her to Jesus. To be authentic Christians, to follow Jesus truly, we need to be bound to him with all that is within us: our minds, our will, our hearts, our daily choices great and small”.

FOURTEENTH STATION – Jesus is placed in the tomb

“Let us halt in prayer before the tomb of Jesus, asking God for the eyes of faith so that we too can become witnesses of his resurrection. Thus may the way of the cross become for us too a wellspring of life”.

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Maundy Thursday

Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end.
They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garments and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’
Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’
‘Never!’ said Peter. ‘You shall never wash my feet.’
Jesus replied, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said,
‘Well then, Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’
Jesus said, ‘No one who has had a bath needs washing, such a person is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.’ He knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said, ‘though not all of you are’.
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’, he said, ‘what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am’.

– from the Gospel of John 13: 1-17

Now has the Son of man been glorified, and in him God has been glorified. If God has been glorified in him, God will in turn glorify him in himself, and will glorify him very soon.
Little children, I shall be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and, as I told the Jews, where I am going, you cannot come. I give you a new commandment: love one another; you must love one another just as I have loved you. It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognise you as my disciples.

– from the Gospel of John 13: 31b-35

Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week

Alleluia! Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures for ever.
Let the House of Israel say, ‘His faithful love endures for ever.’
Open for me the gates of saving justice, I shall go in and thank Yahweh.
This is the gate of Yahweh, where the upright go in.
I thank you for hearing me, and making yourself my Saviour.
The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
This is Yahweh’s doing, and we marvel at it.
This is the day which Yahweh has made, a day for us to rejoice and be glad.
We beg you, Yahweh, save us, we beg you, Yahweh, give us victory!
Blessed in the name of Yahweh is he who is coming! We bless you from the house of Yahweh.
Yahweh is God, he gives us light. Link your processions, branches in hand, up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, I thank you, all praise to you, my God. I thank you for hearing me, and making yourself my Saviour.
Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures for ever.

Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29

“The next day the great crowd of people who had come up for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took branches of palm and went out to receive him, shouting: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.’
Jesus found a young donkey and mounted it — as scripture says:

“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion; look, your king is approaching, riding on the foal of a donkey.

“At first his disciples did not understand this, but later, after Jesus had been glorified, they remembered that this had been written about him and that this was what had happened to him.
The crowd who had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead kept bearing witness to it; this was another reason why the crowd came out to receive him: they had heard that he had given this sign.”

Gospel of John, 12: 12-18 

Thoughts about celibacy

“Remaining unmarried and living celibate for the Kingdom of God is of great merit. It is part of religious life. With our vows of poverty, obedience and chastity we distance ourselves from our desire for possession, for doing things our own way and for a sexual life. These are natural and human desires, but we want to relativise them out of love for Christ, to fully dedicate ourselves to Him. This must however always be a free and personal choice.”

Wise words from Fr. Filip Noël, a Norbertine at Averbode Abbey in Belgium. Celibacy is often seen, both inside and outside the Church as something that is forced upon priests. But I am certain that a celibate life is doomed to failure if it is not the choice of the priest in question. A good formation during the years in seminary is vital, since celibacy is not a magic cure that will prevent the priest from ever falling in love or succumbing to temptation. No, a priest always remains fully human, of course. The key to celibacy is not avoiding these very human desires and urges, but learning how to integrate them in your priestly life. There are no guarantees of success, but it is a vital part of the priestly identity.

The priesthood is not a nine-to-five job which you can step out of at the end of the working day. No, during ordination, the very identity of the priest is changed. No longer is he just a man among other people: he is now a priest for them, while at the same a Christian with them, to paraphrase St. Augustine. He is called to act in persona Christi during the liturgy and the ministering of the sacraments. It is something that changes every element of his life. Besides a sacrifice given freely and willingly to God, celibacy can be an aid in living that life, confirming the priestly identity as being different from that of other men.

The above quote by Father Noël comes from an article in Belgian weekly Tertio, which looks at the question of how sensible celibacy is. Fr. Noël speaks partly against it, taking a somewhat double position: he doesn’t deny the value of celibacy, but suggests it should be subject to the demands of daily life. “In eastern Christianity the choice between a celibate and non-celibate priesthood remained. And that seems to function quite well,” he says. And, “There are also married priests within the Roman Catholic Church, namely in the eastern rites. Why should all the benefits of celibacy not count for them?”

In my opinion, Fr. Noël reduces celibacy to a simplistic balance between advantages and disadvantages. There is no doubt that, in theory, married priests can function just as well as priests who are celibate. Does that mean that celibacy has lost its value? Of course not. Celibacy is not a dogma, it is not a deciding factor of the Catholic faith. Over the centuries it has grown out of necessity, only then revealing its nature as a sacrifice and a means to show a priest’s dedication to the Church of Christ. Simply saying that non-celibate priests also function well is a negative comparison; it looks at the characteristics that celibacy does not have to say something about what it is. It would be better to do the same comparison based on the characteristics that celibacy does have: not saying what celibacy deprives priests of, but what it adds.

Luckily, Fr. Noël is aware of the downsides of the non-celibate life: “The Protestant tradition has done away with all forms of religious life. But when the clergy consists almost totally out of married men, like in the Anglican church, there is a risk of ‘standardisation’. The radicality expressed in celibate life, may work as a correction of the standardisation of the Church.” The Church does not belong to the world, after all (cf. John 17, 16).

Father Noël further talks about the problems of celibacy for seminarians. He say that he has seen many seminarians and young priests leave because of the problems they had with celibacy. I wonder if that is truly due to the nature of celibacy or to the formation and education they receive?

Celibacy is a free choice, but in order to make that free choice, a future priest must be fully aware of what he chooses. A thorough formation and education is vital for that. And then, if a man decides that celibacy is not for him, we can’t say that celibacy is intrinsically flawed. The only conclusion we can draw from that is that the person in question is not called to a celibate life. We can’t even say that the priesthood is not for him.

Source

Lectio divina with the pope

On 12 February, Pope Benedict XVI visited the major seminary in Rome. Among others, he led the seminarians and staff in the lectio divina, the spiritual readings of a Bible passage. The pope chose chapter 15 of the Gospel of John, and went on to focus on various aspects of the text.

It’s an interesting read, certainly in this season of Lent.

The English text of his catechesis can be found here, and my translation into Dutch is here.