By Father Anthony Oelrich
For The Visitor
In an essay on writing, the wonderful Flannery O’Connor observes: “The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location” (“Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose,” New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1961, p. 59).
This “peculiar crossroads” is, as well, where faith operates. Faith encounters and perceives the divine presence in the stuff of the here and now.
Most forms of ancient religion are philosophies of escape from the muck and trouble, the anguish and pain, with a promise of an ethereal, spiritual existence outside of the here and now. Sadly, this is true of our positive thinking, prosperity-gospel forms of Christianity in the United States today.
Authentic Christianity, however, is not escape from suffering, but the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to embrace the suffering of the other in compassion and healing love, walking with the burdened. Indeed, the problem of Christianity is to find and bring the divine into the time and place of our world, especially those times and places marked by anguish.
This points to the significance of devotional practices in the life of Catholic faith. Devotions work to give concrete location to our spiritual lives. The beads of the rosary gently tie us to the mysteries of Jesus with the help of a Mother’s love. The Sacred Heart helps us to visualize a love that is infinite. The Christmas crèche helps us to see the God who is with us always and everywhere — with us right now, right here.
The Stations of the Cross, the series of 14 images offering glimpses of Jesus’ journey from cross bearing to tomb, work just this way. The sublime love of God, eternally lived within the Divine Trinity and effusive of itself within creation is given a place and a time, once for all, in the act of love in which Jesus offered himself to the Father for us on the way of the cross. The Stations of the Cross make that once-for-all event a reality we might touch here and now in these 14 particular stops along the way.
This devotion, traditionally called the Via Crucis, had its beginning on the ancient streets of Jerusalem, following the original route taken by Christ with his cross to Calvary. It should be no surprise that this devotion received added impetus from St. Francis of Assisi, the most spiritual saint because he was the most human, most earthy, kissing the leper, calming the wolf, dancing through the hillside as the Troubadour of the Lord.
In another place, Flannery O’Conner insists we avail ourselves of “anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look.” Along the Stations of the Cross we are helped to see the passion of our Lord. We are sustained in that look that pierces into the reality of Christ’s sacrifice so as to discover infinite love.
Father Anthony Oelrich is pastor of Christ Church Newman Center, St. Cloud.