Having already considered St. Alphonsus general approach to the Stations of the Cross, as well as the first three Stations of his Way of the Cross in particular, we know turn to the fourth, fifth and sixth Stations.
In these three Stations, we see Jesus interact with three individuals: His Mother, the Cyrenian, and the holy woman Veronica. We too come to meet Christ and accompany him on his sorrowful journey. Let the love which the Savior shows us in this dolorous way, inflame our hearts with a true and holy love in return.
The Fourth Station: Jesus meets his afflicted Mother
Consider, the meeting of the Son and the Mother, which took place on this journey. Jesus and Mary looked at each other, and their looks became as so many arrows to wound those hearts which loved each other so tenderly.
St. Alphonsus is the Marian Doctor – he wrote numerous tracts on Our Lady, both proclaiming her central and indispensible role in the mystery of salvation and directing the faithful to a true devotion of the her. Here, in this short meditation for the fourth Station, St. Alphonsus’ love and devotion for the Queen of Heaven expresses itself in profound compassion and sorrow.
My most loving Jesus, by the sorrow Thou didst experience in this meeting, grant me the grace of a truly devoted love for Thy most holy Mother. And thou, my Queen, who wast overwhelmed with sorrow, obtain for me by thy intercession a continual and tender remembrance of the Passion of thy Son. I love Thee, Jesus, my love; 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.
Here, and again at the thirteenth Station, St. Alphonsus addresses his words also to the Blessed Virgin in addition to Christ. Notice, throughout the Stations, the Saint directs us to speak principally to the Lord, but, as all true devotion to Christ passes through Mary, we call out also to the Mother of Sorrows.
For St. Alphonsus, what is most important in our meditation on the Passion, is to recognize the love and zeal for souls which compelled Christ to offer himself upon the Cross. As Mary knew this love most intimately, she will instruct the faithful in tender love and devotion. Through her prayer, we who entrust ourselves to her motherly protection will gain “a continual and tender remembrance of the Passion of [her] Son.”
The Fifth Station: Simon helps Jesus to carry the Cross
Consider that the Jews seeing that at each step Jesus, from weakness, was on the point of expiring, and fearing that He would die on the way when they wished Him to die the ignominious death of the cross, constrained Simon the Cyrenian to carry the cross behind Our Lord.
Notice that St. Alphonsus states that the “Jews” forced Simon into service. This, of course, is not quite accurate – since, it was the Roman soldiers who pulled Simon from the crowd. Nevertheless, it may be true insofar as certain Jews are the remote cause of all the events of the Passion. It was their hatred of Jesus which forced Pilate’s hand (not that he really cared much at all about the Lord anyways), and therefore it is their ill-will that led to the events which also “constrained Simon the Cyrenian to carry the cross behind Our Lord.”
Moreover, we must emphasize that it was by no means the case that all the Jews hated the Savior: Mary, John and Veronica were all Jews. However, it is worth noting that the Greek term used could also be rendered “Judaeans,” which would indicate the diversity between the Jews of Judea and the Jews of Galilee – this is also evident in the fact that Peter was recognized as a follower of Jesus through his Galilean accent.
My most sweet Jesus, I will not refuse the cross as the Cyrenian did; I accept it, I embrace it. I accept in particular the death that Thou hast destined for me with all the pains which may accompany it; I unite it to Thy death, I offer it to Thee. Thou has died for love of me, I will die for love of Thee, and to please Thee. Help me by Thy grace. I love Thee, Jesus, my love; 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.
St. Alphonsus accepts the tradition that Simon was truly “constrained” and forced to carry the Cross – not that he did so willingly, but rather out of compulsion. We, on the other hand, join the Lord on his Way not through external compulsion but by the internal impulse of love.
Among the many ways in which we are able to accompany the Lord on his sorrowful journey, St. Alphonsus directs us in particular to accepting “the death that [Christ] has destined for [us] with all the pains which may accompany it.” This preparation for a holy death was extremely important in St. Alphonsus’ thought. The grace of final perseverance is THE GRACE which we must ask for each day, it is the only grace that really matters. However, final perseverance is (according to the Doctor of Morals) not merely the last grace but also the whole string of graces which led us to the point of turning to the Lord in our final hour.
Considering that Christ has died for love of us, we are filled with confidence in his holy and divine love. Turning to the Savior we beg him for the grace to die for love of him and to please him.
The Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Consider that the holy woman named Veronica, seeing Jesus so afflicted, and His face bathed in sweat and blood, presented Him with a towel with which He wiped His adorable face, leaving on it the impression of His holy countenance.
Veronica does not appear in the earliest martyrologies and her cult of veneration developed quite late. The event on the way of the Cross is not found in the Scriptures, and even St. Charles Borromeo excluded her feast from the Milan Missal. The name “Veronica” may come from the combined Latin and Greek: vera (true) and icon (image), referring to the impression of Christ’s Holy Face upon the cloth. Still today, the image is often called “The Veronica.”
Nevertheless, both the strong witness of numerous oral traditions as well as of the mystical visions granted to countless saints confirm that this act of compassion did occur. “The holy woman,” whom the Church has “named Veronica” was moved by the great love which Christ our Savior was showing in the Passion and, inspired by grace, “presented him with a towel.” The cloth which bears the image of our Lords holy countenance is said to be kept in Rome at the Basilica of the Vatican, being displayed each year after Palm Sunday vespers for the veneration of the faithful.
My most beloved Jesus, Thy face was beautiful before, but in this journey it has lost all its beauty, and wounds and blood have disfigured it. Alas! my soul also was once beautiful, when it received Thy grace in Baptism; but I have disfigured it since by my sins. Thou alone, my Redeemer, canst restore it to its former beauty. Do this by Thy Passion, O Jesus. 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.
St. Alphonsus directs us to a highly tropological or moral understanding of this holy event. As Christ’s Face has been disfigured by blows and pains, so too I have disfigured my soul through sins. Through my own fault, I have lost that baptismal grace which beautifies my soul, but I pray that – as Veronica cleansed the Lord’s Holy Face – the Good Jesus may purify and raise my soul by renewed graces.
Notice that the contemplation of the historical event is meant to lead us immediately to the petition of graces. Again, how different this is from Ignatian prayer (and from many other forms of prayer)! Following St. Alphonsus’ method, we do not so much intend to enter the scene or focus on our imaginative powers, but rather we work to excite our heart to acts of charity. Filled with this holy love, we are then able to implore God’s mercy and ask for his grace.