In an earlier article, we have discussed some of the general themes of St. Alphonsus’ approach to the Stations of the Cross and also what makes his spirituality different from others (in particular, from Ignatian prayer). In this article, we will begin our commentary on St. Alphonsus’ Way of the Cross itself – a project which will extend over at least the next two weeks.
We turn to the preparatory prayer and the first three Stations: Jesus is condemned to death, Jesus is made to bear his Cross, and Jesus falls the first time. Considering each of these in detail, it is our hope that we may all be able to enter more fully into the Way of the Cross and so increase in love for our Savior who has so loved us!
The preparatory prayer
My Lord Jesus Christ, Thou hast made this journey to die for me with love unutterable, and I have so many times unworthily abandoned Thee; but now I love Thee with my whole heart, and because I love Thee, I repent sincerely for ever having offended Thee. Pardon me, my God, and 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.
Notice how St. Alphonsus begins by directing us to recall to our Savior his “unutterable” love – a love so great as to lead him to die for us! Considering the great love of Christ our God, we are then impelled to make an act of love in return. Indeed, for the Teacher of Prayer, the way of the Cross is principally an act of love which the Christian soul makes for Christ, who has so loved her.
Yet, it will not be enough for the soul simply to love her Savior, it is also most necessary that she ask him for graces – indeed, according to St. Alphonsus, the prayer of petition is the goal and end of all meditation. For this reason, we are directed to ask our Savior for pardon and the gift of final perseverance: “My Jesus, I will live and die always united to Thee.” If only we die united to Christ, we shall surely attain eternal life!
The First Station: Jesus is condemned to death
Consider how Jesus, after having been scourged and crowned with thorns, was unjustly condemned by Pilate to die on the Cross.
This brief meditation recalls the history of the event, and directs our minds to the end: “To die on the Cross.”
My adorable Jesus, it was not Pilate, no, it was my sins that condemned Thee to die. I beseech Thee, by the merits of this sorrowful journey, to assist my soul in its journey towards eternity. I love Thee, my beloved Jesus; I repent with my whole heart for having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.
St. Alphonsus will not allow the guilt to remain with Pilate, but brings us to acknowledge our own part in Christ’s death: “It was my sins.” Recognizing our sinfulness, but also recalling the Savior’s love for us, we beg the Good Lord for the daily graces which will lead (by God’s mercy) to the ultimate grace of final perseverance: “I beseech Thee to assist my soul in its journey towards eternity.”
Considering the great love that Jesus has shown in walking the way of the Cross for us, how could we refrain from asking him for the gift of salvation? Indeed, the love of Christ compels us to ask for this gift, for salvation will be the consummation of our love!
The Second Station: Jesus is made to bear his Cross
Consider how Jesus, in making this journey with the Cross on His shoulders thought of us, and for us offered to His Father the death He was about to undergo.
St. Alphonsus desires to call our attention to the historical fact that Christ was thinking of you and of me as he carried his Cross. He loved each of us (all together and individually) with an intense love – he offered his death to his Father, for our salvation.
My most beloved Jesus, I embrace all the tribulations Thou hast destined for me until death. I beseech Thee, by the merits of the pain Thou didst suffer in carrying Thy Cross, to give me the necessary help to carry mine with perfect patience and resignation. I love Thee, Jesus my love; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.
According to the tropological or moral sense, St. Alphonsus connects Christ’s carrying of the Cross with our daily bearing of sufferings and trials. The Saint is inspired by the Savior’s own words: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23).
Again, we are directed to ask for grace and help! We petition the Lord for graces; in particular, we now ask for the grace to carry our daily crosses and to unite them to that of our Savior. How prideful it would be for us to look upon our Lord, suffering for our salvation, and yet refrain from asking for this gift which he so longs to give us!
The Third Station: Jesus falls the first time
Consider this first fall of Jesus under His Cross. His flesh was torn by the scourges, His head crowned with thorns, and He had lost a great quantity of blood. He was so weakened that he could scarcely walk, and yet he had to carry this great load upon His shoulders. The soldiers struck Him rudely, and thus He fell several times in His journey.
In this meditation, St. Alphonsus provides more detail than in the first two Stations. Considering the particular pains which our Lord suffered, our hearts are excited to compassionate our Savior.
My beloved Jesus, it is not the weight of the Cross, but my sins, which have made Thee suffer so much pain. Ah, by the merits of this first fall, deliver me from the misfortune of falling into mortal sin. I love Thee, O my Jesus, with my whole heart; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.
As in the first Station, we acknowledge that the sufferings which Christ endured in the way of the Cross are not merely the external and historical sufferings inflicted upon him by the Romans and the Jews, but (even more) are the offenses which our sins have been to him. “It is not the weight of the Cross, but my sins, which have made Thee suffer so much pain.”
Yet, confident in the love of Christ – a love which is shown in that he loved us and died for us, while we were yet in sin – St. Alphonsus directs us to petition for a fitting grace. As Christ suffered a physical and bodily fall, we beg that, by the merits of this fall, we may be preserved from the spiritual fall which is mortal sin. How important is this prayer of petition! If only we begged ardently for this grace – the grace to ever more avoid all mortal sin – we would certainly be saved!