The most significant ecumenical encounter of my life, so far, has been with the Pentecostal churches in Lewisham when I was Head Master there of a majority black school. Attending churches, friendships with pastors, talking with colleagues, families and children taught me much about a joyful, unapologetic way of Christian living. I have always suspected that one reason the Anglo-Catholic culture we created worked was because, like Pentecostalism, it is a spirituality of the heart and of experience.
Another area that my own Catholic upbringing shared with the Pentecostal churches was in developing leadership in the young. Every Sunday in Lewisham pupils from school would be leading worship, preaching or leading worship bands.
I first led a public act of worship when I was fifteen. Stations of the Cross one Friday evening in Lent. Several things strike me as a reflect on that now. It is a very strong memory, so clearly made an impact on me. Although I probably had little understanding of the word ‘introvert’ at the time I remember the delicious feeling as the last people left, I locked the door and just sat still in church before going home. Even now I find it hard to go straight from officiating/presiding to the buzz of after-Mass coffee and often seek a few minutes alone in a chapel or corner somewhere. A breviary in hand is the best way of protecting that space!
The other interesting thing for me now, 37 years later, are the prayers that I used. The traditional responses at each station:
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Then at each station I used the booklet Everyman’s Way of the Cross, by Clarence Enzler. I have no idea where I got this from and have lost my original copy. I asked a member of the congregation to read one part of each section and I read the other. After a pause we then moved to the next station singing the Taize Chant:
Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.
What amuses me about this is how little I have changed. I have used those same meditations and that shame chant as recently as last year. And would do so again.
At the heart of the Christian life is a loving relationship, a deep friendship with Jesus. The way, the ‘stations’ of the cross, are a way to use the imagination to be with Jesus on the last journey of his life. We have seen the remarkable phenomenon of roadside shrines where road traffic deaths have occurred. The bereaved make a pilgrimage to see the spot where their beloved died. In our imaginations, through the way of the cross, we too can go where Jesus died and be with him.
Traditionally, of course, there are 14 stations ending with Jesus’ death. It has been fashionable for some time to add a fifteenth station: the resurrection. There are also versions which stick more strictly to the biblical accounts. Having a set of ‘stations’ on the wall of a church is helpful, sets of printed pictures or posters can easily be bought or used instead. Not all of the stations need to be used in one go. I have often used a small selection with children on Good Friday. I would recommend moving around, the movement is an important part of this journey.
St Alphonsus Ligouri an eighteenth century Italian bishop (and founder of the Redemptorists) is often credited with the traditionally most well known of collections of prayers for use on this walk with Jesus. There are many simple and cheap editions of these prayers. Here is the first station from a Redemptorist edition (first published 1985 and this edition from 2014):
The hymn is the Stabat Mater and with its simple, haunting melody is easy to sing.
Clarence Enzler was a parish deacon in the United States and the father of 13 children. His Way of the Cross (later retitled as Everyone’s Way of the Cross) remains my favourite. It is a dialogue between Jesus and the reader. The text is beautifully written in spare prose. Here is the seventh station with pictures from the 1986 edition (original Ave Maria Press, 1970):
These fourteen steps
That you are now about to walk
You do not take alone.
I walk with you.
Though you are you,
And I am I,
Yet we are truly one,
My way of the cross
Two thousand years ago
And your ‘way’ now
Are also one.
But note this difference
My life was incomplete until I crowned it
By my death.
Your fourteen steps
Will only be complete
When you have crowned them
By your life.
I have been using these meditations for the whole of my adult life and yet I don’t tire of them. When using them publicly it is very lovely to have a child read Christ’s part.
Here is the final meditation:
I told you from the start my other self;
my life was not complete
until I crowned it with my death.
Your ‘way’ is not complete
unless you crown it with your life.
Accept each moment as it comes to you,
with faith and trust
that all that happens has my mark upon it.
A simple fiat, this is all it takes;
a breathing in your heart,
‘I will it Lord.’ …”
So seek me not in far off places,
I am close at hand.
Your workbench, office, kitchen,
these are altars where you offer love,
and I am with you there.
Take up your cross
and with your life complete your way.
What wonderful phrases: “Your way is not complete until you crown it with your life”
“Your workbench, office kitchen these are altars where you offer love.”
In 2014 Ave Maria Press issued a new edition with illustrations by Annika Nelson and Gertrude Mueller Nelson, here is the Fourteenth Station with its powerful image:
There are so many versions of the stations that each person needs to find one that suits. My second favourite is When Silence Falls, Anna Burke, Veritas, 2008. Burke is an Irish Mercy sister. Each station begins with a sentence of Scripture and then an extended meditation, they are a bit long for reading aloud but very good for private reflection. A sound (eg Flowing Stream) is suggested and an ‘interpretation’ by which the stations may be enacted, a pause for reflection is a simple thought and the bit I like best is a short litany for each station and simple concluding prayer. Combined with the Enzler texts this could be used as a fine, extended form of the stations.
Here are two of the litanies suggested, for the tenth and thirteenth station.
If you haven’t tried praying the stations it is a good idea to start with one or two and get to know them. Any big church that has a set of stations on the wall will be used to people making the walk around the building.Walking the way of the cross with Jesus is a strong way to develop our trust in him, as Enzler’s version has it, Jesus says to us:
The time will come
When all our efforts seem to fail
And you will think,
“I can’t go on.”
then turn to me,
My heavy-laden one,
And I will give you rest.
Trust me and carry on.