Public significance of the stations of the cross
At this particular time of the year millions of Christians all over the world are celebrating the holy season of Lent. During the season of Lent one devotion that is associated with Catholics and many other Christians is the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross are also called the Way of the Cross. Apart from the private celebrations of the Stations of the Cross, there is public celebration of the stations on Wednesdays and Fridays.
It is expected that for faith and prayers to be meaningful and relevant for life they have to be translated into deeds and actions for the benefits of humanity. Faith that does not do social justice is irrelevant. The apostle Saint James says, “Faith without works is dead.” In many passages in scripture, the Judeo-Christian tradition links worship, prayers, and beliefs with practical actions for the improvement of the world and human promotion. Consider the following bible passages: Isaiah 1:15-19; 58; Amos 5:21-27; 6:1-8; 7:10-17; Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 5; 25:31-46; and Luke 16.
Following this tradition of scripture the Catholic Church has always linked her liturgy to public life. In the document, “Justice in the World,” the synod of bishops affirmed that actions for justice and improvement of the world are part of the preaching of the gospel. In “Gaudium et Spes,” they taught that the joys and pains of humanity are equally those of the church. In the “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity” (Apostolicam Actuositatem), Pope Saint Paul VI proclaimed that there are no two parallel lives, one spiritual and the other secular. He states that faith is to be integrated into public life with every sphere of human existence and all culture is to be permeated with the values of the faith. The Catholic Church has recorded more than a hundred years of social teachings. The social teachings of the church all link Christian life to participation in human promotion.
It is in this light that the Stations of the Cross have to be linked to social and public life. A common text of the Stations of the Cross prayed in many churches in Nigeria deeply links the Way of the Cross to deeds of mercy, issues of social justice, and a compassionate life. But the question in practice is: do the thousands of the persons who pray the Stations of the Cross translate what they have prayed into real life? In the Stations of the Cross you find statements and prayers that affirm the face of Jesus is everywhere that suffering, agony, and pain exist. And that Jesus is waiting for us to come and attend to him. As Veronica wiped the face of Jesus so also we must wipe the face of other human beings. The Stations of the Cross are not to be separated from the Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25), and the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16).
This piece categorically states that the Way of the Cross is a way of liberation and justice. The condemnation of Jesus to death, which is the first station was done extra-judicially and unjustly by the Jewish religious leaders and the power of Rome represented by Pontius Pilate. Though Jesus willingly accepted death, his death is equally an outcome of what Walter Brueggermann in “The Prophetic Imagination” calls the royal consciousness that is afraid of the alternative society that Jesus preached where the kingdom of God and not Caesar reigns. The values of this kingdom Jesus had encapsulated in his Sermon on the Mount, the parables, his teachings and kingdom-praxis.
In this kingdom the poor and powerless are welcomed. In this kingdom women and their gifts are celebrated. In this kingdom the little children occupy a special place. In this kingdom love and mercy reign. In this kingdom the Good Samaritan is a model of charity. In this kingdom forgiveness is freely offered. In this kingdom power is exercised for the good of all. In this kingdom human life is protected and secured. In this kingdom the natural world is a companion and not a foe.
Compared with the kingdom that Jesus preached and for which he lived, for which he witnessed to and died; the Nigeria society is a far cry from what it ought to be. In both the “Prayers for Nigeria in Distress” and the “Prayer against Bribery and Corruption in Nigeria”, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria not only prayed but critiqued the failings of the Nigerian society while calling for a better Nigeria. Their critique was done in the light of the life-giving message that Jesus preached.
As Christians pray the Stations of the Cross this season and always they must remember that Nigeria is still in distress, and bribery and corruption are still rampant in the land. Our people are still hungry and defenseless. Nigerians are unsecured, battered, and traumatised. The thousands of Christians including politicians and public officials who troop to the churches during this season for the Stations of the Cross must see it as Stations of Life, Stations of Justice, and Stations of Compassion. It is not just a mere empty prayer.
It calls for actions and deeds of justice. It has implications for public and social life. They must see the Stations of the Cross as mandate to do faith-justice. As we remember the suffering and pain of Jesus in the Way of the Cross and the redemptive death that he suffered on the cross, we must see him in all who are suffering in Nigeria. We must see him in all who have been murdered by herdsmen and herdswomen, Boko Haram terrorists, etc. May the Stations of the Cross that we pray this season help to transform our nation and enhance the wellbeing of our people. Amen.
• Ikeke, a Priest of the Catholic Diocese of Warri is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Delta State University, Abraka.