In these three Stations, we have all the events immediately surrounding the Crucifixion presented to us: Jesus is stripped of his garments, he is nailed to the Cross, and he dies. Certainly, these three Stations, and especially the 12th Station, are the heart of the Way of the Cross. Now, more than ever, we witness the infinite love of our Savior, and we are inspired to make an act of perfect love in return.
In previous articles we considered the first, second, and third sets of three Stations each. It will now be particularly helpful to recall what we said in our introduction to St. Alphonsus’ Way of the Cross. The Doctor of Morals generally has only a brief meditation in which he does relatively little to “construct the scene” with his imagination, but instead tends to focus upon the affective elements (the internal movements of the will toward love, contrition, compassion, etc.). To this end, St. Alphonsus often gives a tropological or moral interpretation of the Station and then directs us to petition for some grace. Among the graces to plead, the grace of final perseverance (which is the grace of being admitted to heaven) is of highest importance and deserves special prominence.
My Lord Jesus Christ, Thou hast made this journey to die for me with love unutterable […] permit me to accompany Thee on this journey. Thou goest to die for love of me; I wish also, my beloved Redeemer, to die for love of Thee. My Jesus, I will live and die always united to Thee. (From the Preparatory Prayer)
The 10th Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments
Consider the violence with which the executioners stripped Jesus. His inner garments adhered to His torn flesh and they dragged them off so roughly that the skin came with them. Compassionate your Saviour thus cruelly treated, and say to Him:
This is certainly one of the most vivid of the meditations which St. Alphonsus offers – speaking of how the “torn flesh” our Christ was dragged off the Lord's body together with the garments. How excruciating this pain must have been! The Teacher of Prayer, considering the terrible pains which our Savior endured, breaks his usual practice and directly addresses the faithful who are making the stations.
Here alone does St. Alphonsus direct us to speak to our Savior during the mediation portion of the Station. Only this one time does St. Alphonsus instruct us, “and say to him:”
My innocent Jesus, by the merits of the torment which Thou hast felt, help me to strip myself of all affection to things of earth, in order that I may place all my love in Thee, Who art so worthy of my love. I love Thee, O Jesus, with my whole heart: I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.
Immediately, inspired by the affective movements of compassion and love, St. Alphonsus offers a moral interpretation of the event: As Christ was stripped of his garments, so may we be stripped of our attachments to the world. Being freed from the consolations of the secular world, we are then able to love the Lord more perfectly. All our efforts are directed to this one end: that we may place all our love in Jesus, who is so worthy of our love.
The 11th Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross
Consider that Jesus, after being thrown on the cross, extended His hands, and offered to His eternal Father the sacrifice of His life for our salvation. These barbarians fastened Him with nails; and then, raising the cross, left Him to die with anguish on this infamous gibbet.
In the meditation on the 11th Station, we cannot help but recall St. Alphonsus' words in contemplating the 2nd Station (Jesus is made to bear the Cross). There he had said, “Consider that Jesus […] offered for us, to his Father, the death that he was about to undergo.” Here again, in the only other time the Father is mentioned, St. Alphonsus reminds us that Jesus “offered to his eternal Father the sacrifice of his life for our salvation.”
As the 2nd Station begins the actual journey itself, since it is only at that time the Jesus takes up the Cross and starts along the Via Dolorosa; so too the 11th Station marks the end of that journey, since in his earthly existence the Savior will walk no more, having been firmly fastened to the Cross.
The barbarous soldiers nail the Savior and leave him to die, but we do not now abandon him. Rather, considering the great love of Christ, we remain close to the Good Lord and offer him acts of compassion and love.
My Jesus, loaded with contempt, nail my heart to Thy feet, that it may ever remain there to love Thee, and never quit Thee again. I love Thee more than myself; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.
Here we have the most moving sentiments of love, “nail my heart to thy feet, that it may ever remain there to love thee, and never quit thee again.” This is the whole petition of the 11th Station; after this, St. Alphonsus returns again to repeat his lines of love which come (with some slight variation) at the end of each Station.
|"At the end of life, you will be examined in love"|
The 12th Station: Jesus dies on the Cross
Consider how thy Jesus, after three hours of agony on the cross, consumed at length with anguish, abandons Himself to the weight of His body, bows His head, and dies.
Notice again the incredible simplicity and brevity of St. Alphonsus’ meditations. Suggesting to our minds the core realities of the mystery of Christ’s death, the Teacher of Prayer does not dwell on details – yet, his concise words fill us with such grief!
“After three hours of agony on the Cross” – St. Alphonsus follows the tradition, which is rooted in the Gospels, that the Lord hung upon the Cross from twelve until three in the afternoon. But St. Mark states that Christ was crucified at the third hour (Mark 15:25), which would seem to be around nine or ten o’clock.
St. Thomas Aquinas, whom St. Alphonsus followed as a sure guide, tells us that the crowd crucified Christ in their hearts at the third hour, for it was then that they cried out, Crucify him! Crucify him! But, it was not till noon that the soldiers actually nailed him to the tree. The Douay-Rheims commentary, on the other hand, states that the period named after the third hour of the day extended till nearly noon – in this way reconciling the Gospel accounts.
O my dying Jesus, I kiss devoutly the cross on which Thou didst die for love of me. I have merited by my sins to die a miserable death, but Thy death is my hope. Ah, by the merits of Thy death, give me grace to die, embracing Thy feet and burning with love of Thee. I commit my soul into Thy hands. I love Thee with my whole heart; I repent of ever having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.
St. Alphonsus pours forth many short acclamations of love. Considering that Christ our Savior died for us, we cannot help but be moved to similar sentiments. Though we deserve to die the death which Christ endured – indeed, we deserve to die a much more horrible death – the death of Jesus is our “hope.”
As we contemplate the Savior’s final moments of life, it is no surprise that St. Alphonsus is moved to petition the grace of final perseverance: “Give me the grace to die, embracing they feet.” Moreover, the Lord’s words to his eternal Father are meant to be internalized by us and offered back to Jesus: “I commit my soul into thy hands.”
“My most sweet Jesus […] Thou hast died for love of me, I will die for love of thee, and to please thee. Help me by thy grace.” (From the 5th Station)