Six ways to transform your suffering with Stations of the Cross

Therese Aaker

Holy Week is a perfect time to reflect on Jesus’ suffering and what his passion means to us in our own. We can’t ever escape suffering in this life, but because of his death, it has meaning.

The Stations of the Cross in particular is a really practical way to do this — we can re-live his experience and apply it to our lives. And if we’re in a season of suffering, there’s a lot we can learn from him on how to suffer well. In learning to suffer well, we become more intimate with him as we unite our experience to his — and they become one.

Here are six things we can learn about suffering from the Stations of the Cross.

1. Be honest about how you feel. (Agony in the Garden)

One of the most important things to do in your suffering, both spiritually and psychologically, is to first admit that you are suffering. Acknowledge your pain, and be honest with yourself about how it makes you feel. Fighting it, as opposed to accepting it, causes even more inner pain. And God can only work with us in as much as we are honest with him.

Jesus himself was honest about his emotional response to pain. In the Agony in the Garden, he prayed before the Father, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). He prayed this twice. He was not emotionally excited to suffer and die. Yet, even as he acknowledged this, he still submitted to whatever the Father’s will was for him. But he didn’t say that first; first, he acknowledged his pain.

2. Accept your suffering. (Jesus Takes Up His Cross)

Even if we’re honest emotionally, accepting suffering is an entirely different matter. Most of us tend to fight it; we simply wish we weren’t suffering, that our lot in life was different. Or even with small sufferings, the daily annoyances like traffic, or irritations from coworkers or family members, are met with impatience.

It’s not easy to do, but accepting our suffering really does lighten it. It’s still there, but it’s no longer causing us more suffering. And when we offer whatever our suffering is to Christ for others, this is another way of accepting it. Somehow, mysteriously, it makes it sweeter, or at least bearable.

Jesus didn’t just say, “Okay, I guess I have no choice, so I’ll take up this cross.” He freely chose his passion with love; he embraced his cross. His example to us is a call to do the same.

We cannot change our suffering, but we can change the way we respond to it. We can embrace our suffering as coming from the heart of Jesus, an opportunity that he has allowed for us to come closer to him, to share in his suffering. And that’s when suffering can be a joy.

3. Reach out or accept help. (Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus)

It’s not easy to be vulnerable with others about your suffering, to let them share in it with you. But doing so is not only a grace for you, but a grace for them, as it allows them the opportunity to love you. Reaching out for help, or accepting it when it is offered, is an act of charity, too.

When Simon was forced by Roman soldiers to help Jesus carry his cross, Jesus accepted that help. He accepted it from Veronica, who wiped his face, too. His vulnerability in his suffering was their chance to love him, and because of it, Veronica became a saint and Simon’s sons, Rufus and Alexander, became missionaries.

4. Embrace your littleness. (Jesus is Stripped)

When we’re suffering, we’re often stripped of our energy, going about everyday life as normal, or of our ability to pray as usual. Maybe we stop praying altogether. These are opportunities to embrace how “little” we really are; when our human weakness becomes more apparent, we can offer this to Jesus, too. This is what St. Therese of Lisieux’s “Little Way” is all about.

It’s also another opportunity to unite this to Jesus, too; a share in his being stripped of all dignity and humanity when the soldiers stripped his garments before nailing him to the cross.

5. Don’t fight your daily deaths. (Jesus Dies on the Cross)

Death is often not as apparent as the physical; we die little deaths every day. Our sufferings, especially when we allow them to mold us more into the people God is calling us to be, are small deaths, too. Embrace them. Step into them.

Reflecting on Jesus’ own death on the cross is consoling, knowing that our sufferings make sense when united to his. He suffered everything we could ever suffer and so we are understood by him. Whatever we are experiencing, he experienced it first.

I heard once that “Whatever you go through, it has already gone through his heart first.”

6. New life always comes from suffering. (Jesus Rises)

Suffering never feels good, but we can always trust that it can be redemptive, when offered to Jesus.

New life always comes from seasons of drought. It depends on our choice, though; we can let ourselves respond to suffering with bitterness, or we can respond with openness and let it be new growth in ourselves and others.

We can’t rid the world of suffering. And no matter how many times we suffer, we will still have moments where we cry out and wonder why it happens. But we can trust in the Father’s goodness, that whatever he allows, he allows for our greater good and for the greater good of others.

COMING UP: How the Good Friday liturgy can change your life

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How the Good Friday liturgy can change your life

The deep meaning behind one of the most important days in Christianity

Therese Aaker

Most of us aren’t strangers to the Good Friday service, or Good Friday itself, for that matter — but sometimes we go through the motions and miss the richness behind the liturgy we’re partaking in. What’s so special about celebrating Good Friday liturgy?

The most important thing to note is that the service is an opportunity to enter into Jesus’ suffering and death — and realize in a deeper, or even new, way — that he died for you personally. We can arrive at that place by having a disposition of fully entering into the rites and letting our hearts be moved through them, according to Father Daniel Cardo, pastor at Holy Name Parish and chaplain at Christ in the City.

“We should experience it in a very personal way — through the rites, we don’t need to change anything — it’s very ancient and that’s very moving,” Father Cardo said. “But through that, we should arrive to the experience of, ‘He died for me,’ to be able to say that and mean that.”

“The most important disposition is entering into the rites — it’s clearly unique. We start in silence, and then the priest prostrates himself. Those prayers are very ancient, and we’re not aware of how ancient they are,” Father Cardo added. “The main point would be to pay attention, to listen, to see the gestures, seeing and adoring the cross as an expression of love.”

The rite of Good Friday offers us the opportunity to actually participate in Christ’s suffering through its various parts.

DENVER, CO - APRIL 3: Eva Bueno kneels in prayer during the Celebration of the Lord's Passion on Good Friday at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception April 3, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Eva Bueno kneels in prayer during the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception April 3, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

It’s important to note, however, that it’s not Mass we’re celebrating. It’s technically a communion service with four main parts: the Liturgy of the Word, general intercessions, veneration of the cross and communion. So why a communion service instead of celebrating Mass?

“Traditionally, there’s never been a Mass on Good Friday per se. The main reason is that it’s seen by the Church as a day of mourning, a day of participating in the suffering of Christ, experiencing that absence,” Father Cardo said.

In the Church’s tradition, the Good Friday rites developed organically over time, so that the structure that formed by the eighth century is what we still celebrate today, according to Father Cardo.

The first part of the rite, the Liturgy of the Word, is special because we enter into the story of Jesus’ passion and death on the cross. But we shouldn’t listen to it just like any other Sunday Mass readings.

“The main benefit is participating in that suffering and experiencing that pain. We shouldn’t be afraid of it,” Father Cardo said. “We have a very emotional understanding of joy, but there is room for participating in the pain of Christ, because we want to be where he is. We suffer with hope, and it’s important to let our hearts be moved by what the Church offers.”

In participating in Jesus’ offering of himself to God the Father, we have a special opportunity to offer intercessions with him, and participate in the ancient tradition of the Church, where intercessions originated. Next, the service offers a veneration of the cross — one of the most moving parts of the liturgy, said Father Cardo.

“That rite comes from Jerusalem, when St. Helena discovered the cross. People would go and see the cross exposed and kiss the cross. That’s why today we approach and kiss the cross,” Father Cardo explained. “The Church invites us to break the routine so that we can appreciate more deeply the gift of the cross, and so, we cover all crosses until we see the cross again as we adore it on Good Friday.”

“The other part is the communion service, a liturgy in which you don’t consecrate the Eucharist, but receive what’s been previously consecrated,” Father Cardo added.

These various parts offer for the faithful an opportunity to “stay awake” with Jesus.

“It’s saying to Christ, ‘I’m going to be with you in your suffering so I can continue to be with you in your victory,’” said Father Cardo.

We can do this by making an extra effort “to listen, to see, to let those gestures inform our way of feeling, to let him take us to his passion and resurrection,” he said.

This experience of entering into the liturgy in such a profound way isn’t just a “remembering,” Father Cardo said.

“One of the unique aspects to the Church is liturgy makes those events a reality — it performs what it signifies. We’re not just remembering, we are suffering with him because he’s suffering for us.”

It’s saying to Christ, ‘I’m going to be with you in your suffering so I can continue to be with you in your victory.’”

He pointed out, that because the Triduum rites are so intense and carefully observed, it signals how carefully the rites are preserved from what was practiced in ancient times.

“There’s a difference between the Western and the Easter Church [rites]. Originally, the Roman liturgy was very sober, and what we celebrate now was the first part of the celebration. Later, we assumed some practices of the Eastern Church, like the adoration of the cross,” Father Cardo said. “With the most intense times of the liturgy, we’ve preserved more carefully the most primitive elements — they’re more sober, but extremely eloquent.”

If we allow our hearts to be moved by Jesus’ death for us, the liturgy won’t just a one-day experience, but something that changes the way we live daily.

“Maybe we can think again back to the experience of saying, ‘He did it for me, he was thinking of me,’” Father Cardo said. “Good Friday is one day a year that we contemplate exclusively love until the end, so hopefully we unfold a profound gratitude and live the consequences of that love every day in a very humble and honest way.”