It was about 10 years ago when I realized something I thought was important. I realized that while I prayed to God the Father as a child and God the Holy Spirit as a young woman, I hadn’t given Jesus much thought. It wasn’t intentional, but it was true. I spent the last 10 years trying to fix that. I wanted to feel as close to Jesus as I do to the Father and the Holy Spirit.
So, I set out on a mission. I read a lot about prayer, became a daily communicant, and prayed the rosary, knowing his mother Mary would bring me to her son. A few years later I was invited to direct the Living Stations with our teen ministry, and I jumped at the chance. I didn’t enjoy contemplating the suffering of Jesus, (I was actually a little afraid to) but I knew the job would require me to use my imagination and dig deep into this event in Jesus’ life. This flowed perfectly from my prayer life and incorporated my personal interests and training as an actress at the same time.
In preparation for the first rehearsal, I was all business. I drew a picture of the altar and copied it so that I would have a picture for each station. I put little x’s where I planned to have each character stand. But first, I would close my eyes and imagine the scene, and talk through the action: in the first station, Jesus is condemned to die, so Pilate will stand here (little x) and Jesus and the soldiers here (three little x’s). I continued in this way for all 14 stations.
As I went along, I began to feel a little sick. Eventually, that feeling grew into a physical shaking, which caused me to get up and pace the floor, and my voice began to rise and became agitated. By the 14th station, I was sitting in my chair and sobbing.
This reaction seemed over the top–even for me, and I’m the first to admit that I’m pretty sensitive and can get quite emotional at times. When it happened, I simply accepted it as an actress would, telling myself I was connecting with the characters–it was all part of the job.
The Grace of Suffering with Jesus
But as a spiritual director, I can see clearly that more was going on there. Somehow, I was granted the grace of sharing in the suffering of Jesus in a way that I could relate to, through the use of my imagination. Remember, a few years earlier, I opened myself to knowing Jesus, and I expressed in my prayers a desire to be close to him. And Jesus accepted my invitation!
With all my physical reactions, it sounds like a negative experience, but in reality, I treasure this memory as a graced encounter with Jesus, who shared his most intimate suffering with my open heart. What greater love is there than to stand helpless at the foot of his cross with his mother Mary,“through her heart his sorrow sharing, all his bitter anguish bearing”? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stabat_Mater)
In sharing his suffering with me all those years ago, I feel Jesus had a clear motive. And it may not fit with your picture of why we share in the suffering of Jesus. My feeling has nothing to do with penance for my sins, although I am fully aware of the benefits of a good penance.
I feel that Jesus shared his suffering with me so that I would be encouraged to share mine with him. Jesus shares his suffering so that he can stand at the foot of our crosses, helpless, but loving us with his whole heart. “Through his heart our sorrow sharing, all our bitter anguish bearing.”
Intimacy with Jesus
There is an intimacy there that may feel funny. I admit that even when I realized this was the invitation from Jesus, it took me a while to actually share with him because he was surely way too busy to hear about my little problems. It was intimidating to share with Jesus who will someday come to judge the living and the dead. I felt a little ashamed to bear my deepest pain to Jesus, whom I ignored for most of my life. And yet, I couldn’t deny the deep love I felt for Jesus and the consequential and natural instinct to share my whole life with him, in other words, to let him love me as much as I had come to love him. I was sure this was what Jesus was calling me to do; to leap into his loving arms.
Why was Jesus so willing to suffer?
This gift of an intimate relationship is there for all of us. This leads me to believe that Jesus’ motive for intimacy with each of us had to be at least part of his willingness to be crucified. Isn’t a deeply personal friendship with Jesus part of the redemption of the world?
During the stations of the cross, we say, “We adore you oh Christ and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” I sometimes chuckle when we say this because it is repeated so often, and in such a monotone, that I sometimes think we forget what we truly mean when we say it. The first definition of the word “adore” is to love and respect (someone) deeply, and the second to worship and venerate. We, Christians have the second part of that definition down. How about the first?
To love and respect someone deeply is a two way street. Everyone knows there is a give and take to love. But it seems to me that to worship and venerate is all one way. My prayer life tells me that our Blessed Trinity wants more than a one way relationship with us and, if we look at the gospels, I think Jesus’ example of friendship with the apostles, tax collectors, samaritans, and sinners tells us the same.
Last chance Lenten Sacrifice
Jesus used the Stations of the Cross to awaken me to a loving relationship with him, but what is he using with you? We all know that Jesus is here with us in our lives, but sometimes we forget to look for him. Why not spend the rest of Lent looking for Jesus in your life? He may show up in a great suffering or joy that you visit in your memories or in your present-day living. Is Jesus standing at the foot of your cross? Is he helping you carry it? Or is he soaking in the joy, as you love your life?
If these seem like impossible questions to answer, I promise they are not. I recommend that you begin with your sincere desire. It doesn’t have to look like my example, but it does have to be deeply your own, and you do need to be brave and share it with Jesus. Please take my word for it when I say, the grace is worth the leap.