Tag Archives: lent

Lent offers a possibility of joy

The season of Lent is: “to offer in the joy of the Holy Spirit, of our own accord a measure of service…Less food, drink, sleep, speech, merriment, and with the joy of spiritual desire await holy Easter.” (Rule of St Benedict, 49)

Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross, also called the Way of the Cross or the Via Dolorosa (Latin for “Way of Sorrow”), are the prevailing popular devotion during Lent but many Catholics made the Stations of the Cross on Fridays throughout the year and some even daily. (Pope John Paul II had the pious practice of making the Stations of the Cross daily and installed a set of stations in the apostolic apartments.) In using the word “stations” we understanding it to come from the Latin “station,” meaning “standing still.” The Stations are designed to have 14 stops (and some more recent publications include a 15th station) that portray events of the Passion and death of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They begin with Jesus’ condemnation to death, and concluding with His being laid in the tomb.


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The Stations of the Cross are rooted in the ancient tradition of the Church. Saint Jerome, in the fifth century, speaks in his writings about pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to follow the Way of the Cross. In the Middle Ages, knights of the Crusades walked path Jesus took in meditation to Calvary. Famously Saint Francis of Assisi traveled to the Holy Land to convert the infidels and identify with Christ crucified.


In 1342 the Franciscans became custodians of many of the sacred places in the Holy Land. In 1686, Pope Innocent XI granted the same indulgences that pilgrims to the Holy Land obtained to all who make the Stations of the Cross. Thus, making the Stations substituted for physically making a pilgrimage to place where the Lord made his way.


Stations are found in every church, reflecting Christ’s words: “If any one wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).


So what’s the Church’s teaching on the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross)?


Of all the pious exercises connected with the veneration of the Cross, none is more popular among the faithful than the Via Crucis. Through this pious exercise, the faithful movingly follow the final earthly journey of Christ: from the Mount of Olives, where the Lord, “in a small estate called Gethsemane” (Mk 14, 32), was taken by anguish (cf. Lk 22, 44), to Calvary where he was crucified between two thieves (cf. Lk 23, 33), to the garden where he was placed in freshly hewn tomb (Jn 19, 40-42).


The love of the Christian faithful for this devotion is amply attested by the numerous Via Crucis erected in so many churches, shrines, cloisters, in the countryside, and on mountain pathways where the various stations are very evocative.


The Via Crucis is a synthesis of various devotions that have arisen since the high middle ages: the pilgrimage to the Holy Land during which the faithful devoutly visit the places associated with the Lord’s Passion; devotion to the three falls of Christ under the weight of the Cross; devotion to “the dolorous journey of Christ” which consisted in processing from one church to another in memory of Christ’s Passion; devotion to the stations of Christ, those places where Christ stopped on his journey to Calvary because obliged to do so by his executioners or exhausted by fatigue, or because moved by compassion to dialogue with those who were present at his Passion.


In its present form, the Via Crucis, widely promoted by St. Leonardo da Porto Maurizio (+1751), was approved by the Apostolic See and indulgenced, consists of fourteen stations since the middle of seventeenth century.


The Via Crucis is a journey made in the Holy Spirit, that divine fire which burned in the heart of Jesus (cf. Lk 12, 49-50) and brought him to Calvary. This is a journey well esteemed by the Church since it has retained a living memory of the words and gestures of the final earthly days of her Spouse and Lord.


In the Via Crucis, various strands of Christian piety coalesce: the idea of life being a journey or pilgrimage; as a passage from earthly exile to our true home in Heaven; the deep desire to be conformed to the Passion of Christ; the demands of following Christ, which imply that his disciples must follow behind the Master, daily carrying their own crosses (cf Lk 9, 23).


The following may prove useful suggestions for a fruitful celebration of the Via Crucis:


via-crucis1991.jpg-the traditional form of the Via Crucis, with its fourteen stations, is to be retained as the typical form of this pious exercise; from time to time, however, as the occasion warrants, one or other of the traditional stations might possibly be substituted with a reflection on some other aspects of the Gospel account of the journey to Calvary which are traditionally included in the Stations of the Cross;


-alternative forms of the Via Crucis have been approved by Apostolic See  or publicly used by the Roman Pontiff: these can be regarded as genuine forms of the devotion and may be used as occasion might warrant;


-the Via Crucis is a pious devotion connected with the Passion of Christ; it should conclude, however, in such fashion as to leave the faithful with a sense of expectation of the resurrection in faith and hope; following the example of the Via Crucis in Jerusalem which ends with a station at the Anastasis, the celebration could end with a commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection (131-134).


(Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 2001)

Exposed to subtle sins today

“…I observe that a civilized age is more exposed to subtle sins than a rude age. Why? For this simple reason, because it is more fertile in excuses and evasions. It can defend error, and hence can blind the eyes of those who have not very careful consciences. It can make error plausible, it can make vice look like virtue. It dignifies sin by fine names; it calls avarice proper care of one’s family, or industry, it calls pride independence, it calls ambition greatness of mind; resentment it calls proper spirit and sense of honour, and so on.” (John Henry Newman, Sermon 5, Faith and Prejudice, NewYork: Sheed & Ward, 1956)

What’s the point of prayer and fasting in Lent?

Lent is a most propitious time for more intense prayer, of penance and of greater attention to the needs of brothers and sisters. Before we start running off to do more, think first about the quality of time spent doing “Lenten activities.”

Between Carnival and Lent.JPGThe Liturgies in the Lenten season are an invitation to live more intensely the desire for conversion with the words of the apostle Paul in front of us: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

The imposition of ashes at yesterday’s sacred Liturgy helped us to acknowledge ourselves sinners, invoke the forgiveness of God while manifesting a sincere desire for conversion. The journey we find ourselves making is an ascetic journey leading directly to Easter Triduum, and the 8th day: the heart of the liturgical year.

The tradition of the Church obliges you and me to abstain from meats and to fast, with the sole exception of those who are impeded for reasons of health or age, 2 days per year (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday). There is good reason to extend this practice to each Wednesday and Friday of the year save for the Easter season,but that is a topic for another blog entry!


Fasting’s great value in the Christian life is experienced as a need of the spirit to relate better to God. Fasting from food on the superficial level as important as it is, is meaningless if it doesn’t lead to a deeper reality, fasting from sin. For fasting to make an impression on us needs to be connected with a sincere desire for interior purification, willingness to obey the divine will and a thoughtful solidarity toward brothers and sisters.

What is the link between fasting and prayer? Part one to pray means to communicate with God and part two it is to listen to God through the work of lectio divina (think of what October’s Synod of Bishops on the Word of God said about lectio divina) which forms an opened heart.

Of the many venerable things we can do during Lent the most important aspects of Lent Mother Church proposes to us is an urgent invitation to a deeper conversion, penance and solidarity. The logic here is the awareness of what needs converting in ourselves first before we go and reconstruct the world. It is easier to think that Jesus came to save all humanity from sin and death (He did) and it is often difficult to deeply know that Christ saved me.  The common good can only be reconciled to God’s designs when we first have the affection for ourselves that God has for us. It’s less about what the Lord did for everybody else, than it is to know in the depths our being that God wants me to be with in Him. Here is the need to be aware of the fact of the Incarnation of the Word for my personal encounter with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Hence, the evening news will tell you just where peacemaking needs to be: in our own hearts and then in the hearts of so many in the world around us. Many of the problems we face are the result of our own divided heart and lack of peace. Hopefully our Lenten observance will pave the way to a true conversion of heart assisted by penance and solidarity contributing to the work of true peacemaking in the context in which we find ourselves. As John Paul II often reminded us, we are co-responsible for the construction of peace and conversion is the first step in that regard.

Keeping the Lord’s passion & death before us

Lent is not everyone’s cup of tea. I find myself at odds with the discipline of this holy season in part because I am not always up to the call of conversion. AND yet, what is Christian life but a constant change of heart, moving from sin to grace, from spiritual antipathy to greater freedom in Christ, from being a yahoo to being the person God the Father wants me to be. Several things come to mind at the beginning of Lent: has the Paschal Mystery (the Lord’s life, death, resurrection & ascension) made a lasting impression on me? Does the Lord’s self-giving open or close the doors of my heart?


In some way there is an impression made on us by the Lord’s Paschal Mystery otherwise we wouldn’t begin the season of Lent with prayer, fasting and almsgiving symbolized by the mark of ash. But a possible danger is allowing the spiritual life to be mired in mere routines and moralisms which kill off a relationship with the Blessed Trinity and with our neighbor. Human nature, however, is a funny thing sometimes. We often think that everyone else is expected to change except for me. While it is the acceptable time to change heart and mind, as the Apostle says, often the practice of change is left to the other person in the pew or the one sharing the bathroom. Therefore there is a disconnect with reality here because of a lack of awareness of hod God is inviting us to new life.


It is our Christian belief, that is, the reality of being a true disciple of the Lord Jesus, that God loved us so much so as to suffer death and to rise three days later for me. The question becomes: does Christ’s death/resurrection make a real difference in my life? How do my attitudes toward an ego-centric sister or a crazy aunt change as a result of this awareness? Do we have a hope based on faith that can show the world there is real, substantial hope in an era where there’s so little trust, love and belief in the hundred-fold promised by the Lord?


God is patient with us via truce he offered and which is spoken of by Saint Benedict. Abbot Placid reminded us at last evening’s Mass, God has provided us


…a truce granted us for this very reason, that we may amend our evil ways. As the Apostle says, “Do you not know that God’s patience is inviting you to repent” (Rom. 2:4)? For the merciful Lord tells us, “I desire not the death of the sinner, but that the sinner should be converted and live” (RB, Prol.).


The hallmarks of Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I would contend that every day of our Christian life is marked this way with prayer, sacrifice and charity. So this time of the year is characterized by a more intense living of our commitment to Christ by encountering him in old and perhaps new ways. If we don’t pray at the side of the cross can we really call ourselves Christian? Is there a real obedience (following and listening) to the example Christ gave us? Can we receive give to others the alms of patience, forgiveness and love? Do we have affection for ourselves as a condition for loving others? And can we be intentional in not being controlled by sin and sinful tendencies? Can we remove ourselves from those things that denigrate our dignity as a son and daughter of God, or are we going to exist in a cycle of destructive attitudes and actions? Now is the acceptable time, now is the time to act.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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