I belong to a large and beautiful Catholic church, but during Lent I am always drawn to participating in the Way of the Cross services at a tiny little church a half hour west of me. They hold it in the garden beside the church (weather permitting which it nearly always does) at noon. People of all ages take part, right down to toddlers more interested in exploring and school age children who take turns saying the prayers. Instead of rushing from one station to another mumbling the words so fast one can’t really even follow them, never mind contemplate the meaning, the pace is slow with time and space to think and reflect. As I was leaving the lovely service this past Friday, I got to remembering the most vividly intense Way of the Cross I ever joined.
I’d been in Tonga for more than a year and had experienced the spiritual depth of prayer both in and out of the church. But the Way of the Cross was special. Dressed in mourning clothes, which is black garb and traditional woven mats wrapped about the waist, I headed downtown to St Joseph’s Cathedral in Neiafu. There the procession winds from the church steps, around the streets of the small town, stopping fourteen times to offer prayer. A young man dressed as Christ carries a very large and heavy cross and it is obvious early on that the work is hard. He is sweating and his steps grow more weary after each stop, until we finally return to the steps of the church where he is tied to that cross and the cross lifted up. There were no nails, of course, but a tiny chock beneath his heels. As the prayers went on, his limbs began to tremble and his face was contorted with the effort to remain where he was. Looking at that young, earnest face, it was so easy to picture Christ upon his cross, trembling with fatigue, thirsting and finally calling out for his Father do to His will. For the rest of my life, that young face will color my interpretation of the Way of the Cross, and encourage me when I balk at carrying my own cross.