What it’s like to play Jesus in the Way of the Cross play

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Moisés Martin, a member of the young adults group at Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora, will be personifying Jesus at the bilingual Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) play traditionally performed on Palm Sunday.

“[This role] helps me deepen in his passion and imagine his way to Calvary,” Martin told the Denver Catholic.

This is the first time Martin will play the role of Jesus, whereas in previous years he was involved in the logistics of the Via Crusis. Practice is twice a week, and Martin uses that time as a moment of prayer to Jesus, saying: “Lord, you have lived this [Via Crucis] for me, I am just acting.”

In the days leading up to Holy Week, while going through the 14 stations — from Jesus’ condemnation to death to the place of his body’s rest in the sepulcher — Moises’ experience helps him “to deepen what [Jesus] lived, to take it more into account, and to respect him more for what he did for us.”

Moises Martin, wearing white, portrays Jesus in a rehearsal for the Living Stations of the Cross at Queen of Peace Catholic Church on March 15, 2018, in Aurora, Colorado. (Photos by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

An encounter with God

Martin is originally from Jalisco, Mexico, and has lived in the U.S. for four years. Two years ago, he experienced a moment of conversion that led him to an encounter with God’s love that changed his life.

At the beginning of this process, Moises was very focused on his “fear” of God, and on his fear of hell, which he sees as something horrible. “I do not want to get there,” he said.

He began to learn about and come to a deeper understanding of the promises of God. “He wants us to be happy,” he affirmed. He took the most powerful spiritual tools, the rosary, and simple prayers and asked God to allow him to overcome the evil and sins within him.

“I felt peace and an immense happiness,” the young actor said. “I looked around and I felt that had God heard my prayers and freed me. [He] touched my heart.”

Thus, God with his grace “transformed my weakness into purity, many things changed, both in my heart and in my thoughts.” For this reason, he believes that “the Holy Spirit will be present and will lead me to the cross and to the sepulcher to be resurrected with Him.

I would like to feel at least some of the suffering he felt, so I can deepen more in this role [as him].”

A moment of prayer

For Moises, the days of Holy Week “are beautiful days” for which “we must prepare ourselves with prayer, penance and fasting.” He feels that the spiritual base to take advantage of these holy days consists of “deepening in prayer,” and he recommends “reading and contemplating passages of [the Lord’s] passion in the gospel,” which he said is an opportunity to delve into the mystery of “how Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem and then gave his life for us.”

After his conversion journey, Moises considers that his participation in the living Via Crucis at his parish goes beyond mere performance and becomes a moment of prayer.

“I know that Jesus suffered much more,” he said. “I would like to feel at least some of the suffering he felt, so I can deepen more in this role [as him].”

How to pray the Via Crucis

In addition to procession on Good Friday or any other day of Holy Week, the faithful are also welcome pray the Via Crucis in their home at any time of the year, meditating on the Stations of the Cross. For each station, the faithful should pray: “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.” Then, an Our Father, Hail Mary and a Glory Be should be prayed.

These are the 14 Vía Crucis stations:

FIRST STATION: Jesus is condemned to death.
SECOND STATION: Jesus takes up his Cross.
THIRD STATION: Jesus falls the first time.
FOURTH STATION: Jesus meets his Mother.
FIFTH STATION: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his Cross.
SIXTH STATION: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
SEVENTH STATION: Jesus falls the second time.
EIGHTH STATION: Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem.
NINTH STATION: Jesus falls the third time.
TENTH STATION: Jesus is stripped and offered gall and vinegar to drink.
ELEVENTH STATION: Jesus is nailed to the Cross
TWELFTH STATION: Jesus dies on the Cross.
THIRTEENTH STATION: Jesus is taken down from the Cross and given to his Mother.
FOURTEENTH STATION: Jesus is laid in the tomb.

COMING UP: Our first and most precious freedom

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Our first and most precious freedom

What four recent Supreme Court cases say about the present and future of religious liberty

Eric Kniffin

In September 2015, Pope Francis called religious liberty “one of America’s most precious possessions” and urged American Catholics “to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.” For while “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive,” the Pope noted “they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty.”

Five years later, the vigilance Pope Francis spoke of is needed now more than ever. Over the first half of 2020, the Supreme Court decided four major religious liberty cases. The first case will open Christian employers up to a whole new slate of discrimination lawsuits, but overall the Court has expanded religious liberty protections. On the whole, I remain optimistic about the future of religious liberty. But, as Pope Francis cautioned, we as Catholics need to be vigilant about protecting this most precious freedom.

Supreme Court Overview

The case that has caused the most consternation for the Church is the June 15 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.

The Court’s ruling sent shockwaves throughout the Church. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB, lamented “that the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively redefined the legal meaning of ‘sex’ in our nation’s civil rights law,” calling it “an injustice that will have implication in many areas of life.”

Notre Dame law professor Rick Garnett agreed, predicting that Bostock may affect not only  Catholic employers’ hiring decisions, but also “universities’ residential-hall practices, sports-eligibility rules, government contracts and research grants.”

But while Bostock will certainly lead to more religious liberty conflicts, the Supreme Court’s other three religious liberty decisions demonstrate the Court’s strong commitment to what the USCCB has called our “First Freedom.”

In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court finally confronted the ugly anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant history of “Blaine amendments,” provisions found in 37 state constitutions—including Colorado—that block state funds from going to religious schools. The Court held that Blaine amendments violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, which “protects religious observers against unequal treatment” and against “laws that impose special disabilities on the basis of religious status.”

Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania marks the Supreme Court’s latest foray in the nearly decade-long battle over the federal contraception mandate. The Court held that the Trump Administration acted lawfully when it created a broader religious employer exemption from the mandate, and affirmed that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) not only permits but requires federal agencies to consider whether regulations like the contraception mandate burden religious exercise.

The last religious liberty case of the term was Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru. which asked whether teachers at two California Catholic schools qualified for the First Amendment’s “ministerial exception,” a doctrine that keeps the government from interfering with the Church’s most important personnel decisions. The Court said yes, affirming that the ministerial exception should be interpreted broadly to protect the right of religious institutions “to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.”

Brokering a Fragile Peace

What do these decisions say about where we are as a society and the future of religious liberty? All four cases show the Supreme Court struggling with the reality that we live in a deeply divided, pluralistic society.

Luke Goodrich, Vice President at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, describes this standoff in Chapter 4 of his recent book, Free to Believe: The Battle over Religious Liberty in America. Goodrich notes that Christians believe in absolute truth, and among these truths are teachings about sexual morality and the nature of the human person. But an ever-growing portion of our society not only rejects these teachings, but sees them as bigotry that threatens the “pursuit of happiness” that is every American’s birthright.

Catholic leaders need to take advantage of good religious liberty decisions by taking concrete steps before conflicts arise. All Catholics should pray for our leaders, and that our nation will continue to honor our First Freedom.

How is the Supreme Court trying to manage this fundamental impasse? It seems the Court is willing to adopt the dominant progressive worldview, but with two important exceptions. First, the Court has continued to stand by our nation’s fundamental commitment to religious liberty. Second, it has refused to follow the left in condemning the Church’s teachings as hateful bigotry.

This is the same approach the Supreme Court took in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that declared a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. That same decision also rejected efforts to conflate those, like Catholics, who believe in traditional marriage with racists: “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”

This fragile peace will be tested again this fall, when the Supreme Court takes up Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. That case asks whether the City can force Catholic Social Services to either place children with same-sex couples, in violation of its Catholic beliefs, or else abandon its foster care ministry altogether. The Supreme Court’s decision will be yet another test as to whether the First Amendment makes room for the Catholic Church to serve the public while remaining true to its unpopular teachings about the human person.

Practical Steps Forward

What do these high-stakes battles over religious liberty mean for Catholics today? The big picture concern, as Goodrich notes in Free to Believe, is that our “culture is changing. Religious freedom is not as secure as it once was.”

What does this mean for the Church and the Catholic faithful?  For the Church and other Catholic organizations, the fragile state of religious liberty means they need to take proactive steps to take advantage of available religious liberty protections. Goodrich urges religious leaders to take practical steps to “strengthen their witness and reduce their likelihood of conflict and loss.” “Far too often,” Goodrich warns, “religious organizations wait until a conflict is already upon them before seeking legal advice. By then, it’s often too late.” Goodrich’s advice echoes many of the strategies I outlined in a special report for the Heritage Foundation, Protecting Your Right to Serve: How Religious Ministries Can Meet New Challenges without Changing Their Witness. Taking these practical steps is a time-intensive and resource-intensive process, but as Goodrich shows, such planning is an increasingly important part of stewardship and prudent leadership.

But religious liberty is not just a concern for the institutional Church and those who agree with the Church’s teachings on culture war issues. That is because religious liberty, first and foremost is about liberty, freedom from government coercion. The USCCB calls religious liberty our “First Freedom” not just because it is listed first in the Bill of Rights, but because it is foundational to our other freedoms. To put it another way, if government can force Catholic nuns to buy contraceptives, what can’t it do?

The increasing legal and cultural pressures on religious institutions make the Supreme Court’s religious liberty decisions more important than ever. Catholic leaders need to take advantage of good religious liberty decisions by taking concrete steps before conflicts arise. All Catholics should pray for our leaders, and that our nation will continue to honor our First Freedom.

Eric Kniffin is an attorney in Lewis Roca Rotherberger Christie’s Religious Institutions Practice Group.

Image caption: Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, of the Little Sisters of the Poor, speaks to the media after aruments at the US Supreme Court, March 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. Today the high court heard arguments in Little Sisters v. Burwell, which will examine whether the governments new health care regulation will require the Little Sisters to change their healthcare plan, to other services that violate Catholic teaching. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)