By: Fr. Santo Arrigo C.Ss.R.
Spring has begun to blossom around us, and the air is filled with the freshness of new life. Our Lenten journey continues around us as faith is enlivened and renewed in the depths of our being. We take a pause at this point of Lent to really take stock of all that divides our hearts by moving deeper into this Lenten desert.
One way of depending our Lenten journey is to walk with Jesus as he journies to carry his cross. The Stations of the Cross, a practice of devotion dating back to the first centuries after the death of Jesus, have become a way of identifying ourselves with Jesus on that first Good Friday. It is a journey marked by time and space, of memory and imagination. By journeying with Christ to the Cross, we join our struggles and difficulties, pains and sorrows, broken hopes and desperations with those of Jesus. We allow the visual image of the Stations to trigger our memories of both faith and our personal experience. This devotion should not bring to our consciousness a sense of us “loving pain”, but should move us to understand the “pain of love” and how that love transforms not only how we understand the meaning of the Cross in our friendship with Jesus, but how that love has a profound connection between you and I, brothers and sisters, called to carry our “cross” in the world – to be “redeeming love” where Good News needs to be proclaimed today.
Where might Good News need to proclaimed today? Where might we identify the carrying of our cross with Jesus carrying the cross today? We do not have to look very far. Look outside your door or window – a lonely neighbour, a family living from paycheque to paycheque, a terrorized neighbourhood due to violence and murder, a country marked by political confusion over basic issues of governance, a generation of young people inheriting attitudes and mistakes for actions made now, a nation facing imminent destruction from quakes, tsunamis and nuclear disaster.
The devotion of the Stations of the Cross allows us to meditate and contemplate the real struggles of today as moments of the cross of Christ still being carried through the lives of millions of people today. As we know from Tradition and the Gospels, the story does not end with just death. The story does continue with new life and with joy of death being conquered. Some people say, “Well, it’s all made up…. Jesus didn’t rise….. It’s just a story…..” For many, this journey of Lent and Easter is just an opportunity to “do better” with our life, but when we take the time to really enter deeply into the mystery, and identify that “way of the cross” with our own lives, we see that Jesus can, and does identify with our own struggles and the struggles of every living person today.
Each day, I will be presenting for reflection, the Stations of the Cross, depicted through the art of Farhad Nargol-O’Neil, an artist from Toronto who has skillfully represented the Stations of the Cross as Devotional Soul Objects. Farhad’s complete works can be viewed on his website . Read Farhad’s writings in his
Artist Handbook (1.13MB)
The Stations of the Cross – Devotional Soul Objects
Jesus is Condemned to Die
Having been brought forward as a traitor to the state, Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate and the people and is condemned to die on a cross. It had only been a short few days prior that Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem and declared as king by the people, and now their shouts reflect their hearts as they respond to Pilate ponderings with “Crucify Him!” They have no king but Caesar, therefore Jesus should die.
Pilate’s dilemma is often felt in our world today – How do we hold justice and responsibility together with our sense of value? Pilate must respond to the charges brought before this man who has become an enemy of the state. Though he sees no crime requiring punishment, he deems it necessary to satisfy the people’s request and allows their judgement to be carried out. Pilates judgement and responsibility is made known. Water falls from Pilate’s hand, the cup of sacrifice is placed in motion. The scales have been tipped. Injustice has been served.
Jesus receives his cross
As children, we are told to receive a gift with openness, and gratitude. But not everything that we receive is a gift. Or is it? Jesus receives his cross – a cross of shame, a cross of pain, a cross of death. Though it is not explicitly figured, the cross is present in the centre of this station. From the upper right, the hand of the condemned receives the cross that is to be carried. As our gaze moves from left to right, we sense the calm that quickly moves to storm and confusion as the cross is received.
We are moved and challenged by the receiving of crosses in our lives, knowing that when taken in our hands, our cross may be received as less than gifts. The mystery of picking up our cross each day and following Christ is the mystery of transforming our shame, our pain, our death in to opportunities for new life.
Jesus falls for the first time
This first fall of Jesus calls draws our attention to the weight of the cross on Jesus’ shoulders. This first fall is depicted through the sin of our appetite. We seek intimacy yet allow lust to control our desires. Never being satisfied with what we have, we allow greed to dictate what we want, more than what we need. Our gluttony feeds our bellies, and leaves us always wanting more. The sin of appetite leads us to be selfish, wasteful, and always seeking more of what we want, and never mindful of what we really need, whether for our bodies, our minds, or our souls.
In the upper left corner, we are reminded through the etching of a single cross that we behold this first fall. Jesus carries the weight of sin, figured through the perversion of the human form, and of technology and machinery. It is our sin that he carries with him on the road to Calvary, carrying it out of love for us, so that these sins are forgiven.
Jesus meets His blessed Mother
No words can contain the anguish of a mother who watches on as her son is being humiliated, tortured, and led to his own death. Mary breaks free through the crowd and takes hold of her Son as if to desire to take away all his pain, all this humiliation, yet she knows that this has to be. She bore him life, but she cannot bare his death. All Mary can do is to wait for the dawn of a new day and for the promise of new life to come from the womb of the earth.
Mary is represented in body and image. Mary is the rose, figured at the top of our image. Her gentle features are in contrast to the figure of her Son’s hand reaching down from the right. Her hand is gentle, while his hand is full of pain and agony. This intimate yet corrupted embrace between a Mother and Son can only find its resolution in the dawn of the new day imaged to the right. This embrace does not end in death, because for this woman, her Son will be brought to birth again.
Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry His cross
Weakened by the heavy load on his shoulders, the soldiers force Simon of Cyrene to come forward and to burden the cross with Jesus. Tradition does not account much information about this man from Cyrene. Most likely he was a Jew from Cyrene, but was probably not a Roman Citizen, therefore he may have been a slave. We see in this encounter then, the identification and relationship of Jesus the Christ, with the face of the poor slave. They walk in solidarity with one another. We are reminded that in this encounter, much like other encounters of Jesus, the social order is rightly disturbed – the lowest are raised, while the mighty or brought low. Ironically, Jesus has been brought low, becoming one of us, becoming one for us.
We see imaged through geometric patterns the cross being a burdened by another’s shoulders from below. The two images of eyes on either side of the centre cross invite us to reflect on the two perspectives engaged in the action of Jesus. Some people choose to watch, while others choose to act. Some people choose to turn a blind eye, while others choose to act towards change. As for Simon, do people make circumstances happen? Or do circumstances make the person? How do we get involved?
Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
First Simon, now Veronica steps out from the crowd and shows great love and tenderness to man who reached out to liberate women from the oppressive culture of His time. It is not surprising therefore, that she had the courage to step out, as Jesus stepped out of the cultural norms to allow women to touch him, to anoint him, to talk to him and to share in the life of the community of disciples with him. Veronica, though not recorded in the Gospels, wipes Jesus’ face and his facial image leaves a permanent impression in the cross, recording for all time the agony of the moment.
The veil, coming down from the top and flowing to the left side of the image enhances the movement or action of Veronica’s gesture. Figured in this station are representations of the feminine as well as an abstract impression of touch, of tears, of blood and of compassion.
Jesus falls for a second time
Violence and terror prevail in a moment of hopelessness. Jesus, with the weight of the cross beginning to overpower him, falls for a second time. Like our first fall, this second fall is depicted through sin. This sin is one of violence. We are all witnesses to violence, whether it is in our homes, workplace, neighbourhoods, or simply seen on every channel on our television screens. Violence is not only witnessed through the image of the abstract ferocious lion, but is experienced through the violent crushing of the cross. We are invited to recall the violence represented by the lion in Dante’s Inferno.
Unlike the victorious Christ who tramples death by death on the cross, this lion’s stance is to trample the victory of the cross; and not only trample the cross, but violently stomp all over it. Sin has gained the upper hand against the already weak and tired Christ. Despite the sin, Jesus gets his footing and rises to continue his walk. As we gaze upon this fall, imaged through the eye at the bottom right, we witness not only the violence and terror, but the determination to move forward.
Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem
Not only has Jesus fallen victim to the agony of the moment, but the women who watch from near and far experience each of his laborious steps as an angry mob trampling on their own hearts. Women have always been held with high respect in the life and ministry of Jesus.
We recall the woman at the well, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, the repentant sinner who bathed His feet with his tears, the woman caught in adultery, the woman healed of her illness, the daughter of Jairus, the Widow of Nain, the Syrophoenician woman, and not to mention His own mother Mary, imaged here once again through the rose.
These are only a few of the women who may have been present that day along the way. We gaze upon the image of the encounter of the women with their beloved friend. It is a moment of tears, tenderness and love. The only grace conferred in the moment is that of consolation. Jesus speaks, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves and for your children”.
The embrace of these women with Jesus, figured through the contours of the feminine alongside the harsh reality of the cross invites us to consider our own willingness to encounter this suffering servant.
Jesus falls for the third time
The weight of sin has become so great. Jesus is overcome once again by the weight of the cross. This third fall is represented through the sin of fraud. Fraud is greater than the sins of the first and second falls (appetite and violence), as fraud is committed through the deliberate free act of knowing evil. In Dante’s Inferno, the fraudulent are located in the eighth circle of hell, right before the circle where Satan is found waist deep in ice.
In this moment as Jesus succumbs to the weight of the cross, the tree of life is chocked ever more violently by Satan, imaged as the snake. Adam and Eve, the first to succumb to the sin of fraud through the deception of the snake to make them believe they were something more than they were, are figured through the hand with the apple.
How subtle is our imagining when we see the tree of life being choked by the snake, but we know that this fall of Jesus will ultimately lead us the liberation through that same tree of life. Figured in this fall, more than in the first two falls, the crosses not only indicate to us that this is the third fall, but that the tree of life is renewed through the salvific act of love through death on the tree. We see the almost unperceivable etch from the base of the choked tree of life leading us towards the liberated cross. We connect then the completion of our journey of salvation. The fall of Adam and Eve has given rise to this fall of Jesus. But this fall was necessary to bring love to triumph.
Jesus is stripped of His garments
There is nothing more degrading to human dignity than to have one’s clothing stripped from their body. It is an attack that leaves the victim powerless, exposed and vulnerable to further shame. The dressing of Jesus in his “royal” robes is only made more twisted by removing them for all to see.
Jesus, the Lamb of God is the sacrifice for our sins that have burdened him throughout this journey. In the Hebrew Tradition of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the sheep is sent out into the desert carrying the listing of the sins of the people. Jesus the lamb is figured predominantly in this station, standing before the altar of sacrifice. The two beasts violently attack Jesus, removing his garments, placing the sins of the people upon him and preparing Him for sacrifice.
Though, the beasts are removing the garments from Jesus, they are actually aiding in the liberation of the world from the debt of sin.
Jesus is crucified
Confusion – Horror – disbelief. These are the emotions that envelope the witnesses who watch their beloved being pierced with nails and thorns. Wounds touch deep within the skin. Wounds piercing through our very soul. Jesus is nailed to the cross. The end is near. The deed is done. Grace is absent in the midst of great confusion.
We see imaged how the journey takes us out of the city of Jerusalem, from the temple into the pit of chaos. Eyes of witnesses not knowing where to look – Roman Soldiers, Mary, the mother of Jesus, John, the beloved disciple. The tormented hand reaching high, figured with an eye where the nail is being placed. The wisdom of God is at work in this moment, even though alongside this eye, we see figured the devil, with horns and tail creeping in to devour and to conquer. Soon, he will be raised up. Soon, the spear will pierce his side. Soon, that wisdom of God will reveal grace again.
Death on the Cross
Heaven and earth have met once again. Through the incarnation of the Word of God coming among us as a man gave new meaning to our life, so in this moment, the death of “God among us”, Emmanuel has brought new meaning to death. We are reconciled with God in this moment and the Covenant formed long ago is once again restored. We are reminded that it is not so much the love of pain that brings us into this renewed covenant with God, but it is the pain of love that draws us back into this love relationship with our Creator. We are redeemed through this act of love, while we also await the future promise of the fullness of redemption.
Figured quite predominantly are the two Seraphim kneeling towards one another on top of what appears to be the tablets of the Covenant – the Ten Commandments. We behold the Ark of the Covenant, the repository of law in the person of Jesus Christ. In the desert of the Sinai Peninsula, the Ark was kept in the tent. It was from between the two Seraphim on the Ark that God spoke the word to Moses. Between the Seraphim at the direct centre of this Station, we see a small tablet with the etch of a Cross. Once again, it is between the Seraphim, that the Word of God has spoken. Jesus is the Word of God bringing life through His death. The temple, figured below the Seraphim, has been shaken, while the veil of the temple, starting from the bottom of the image, as been torn in two.
As in the image, represented in the eye to the right, we have become fellow witnesses to this death. We see the suffering of all of God’s creation and our brothers and sisters day in and day out. All of creation cries out for this renewal to take place today. We find hope through this image, as death has not triumphed. It is still part of our lived experience to suffer and die, but death has not triumphed. This has been the promise of God in our love relationship with Him. This has been a part of the Covenant that has been renewed in the blood of Christ.
The Body of Christ is taken down from the Cross
Jesus is dead. His body hangs lifeless upon the Cross. The raging storm not only thunders around them, but adds to the confusion that lies deep within the hearts of those who behold this sight. Jesus is dead. All hope, expectations, dreams, good news is dead.
We gaze upon mass confusion in the piece before us. Even our gaze is shifted along the vertical plane, the top is slanted to the left, while the base of the image is slanted to the right. While trying to remove the body of Jesus from the cross with devotion and respect, everyone is rot with raw emotion. No one knows where to look, nor how to feel. The words of Jesus echo in their ears, “It is finished”. But these witnesses cannot believe that it is finished. Though dazed and confused, their objective is clear: remove Jesus’ body before sundown and place him in the tomb, figured at the bottom right of the piece.
The Body of Christ is put in the Tomb
Evening approaches and all have returned to their homes and families, the city has become silent. Many remain quiet; some, puzzled. A few, frightened of what is next for them. Joseph of Arimathea, along with Nicodemus, the disciple John, Mary Magdelene, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the other women have removed Jesus’ body and quietly and quickly bring Him to His final resting place, the tomb. There is no time to prepare the body, as the sun is about to set. The women plan to come back and properly prepare the body with spices and oil.
Figured in the upper left corner are windows through which we see the place of execution, where the cross still stands. The slope down the right to the centre illicit the movement of this Station – the journey of Jesus to the tomb, which is imaged to the left – the final resting place. Using inverse perspective in the tomb, we are invited to see this place as holy, like an Icon. It is a new altar of the lamb, the lamb that has been slaughtered and is now dead. Above the tomb, we see the subtle curved line reminding us of the waters of death which also figure as the waters of new life and baptism. As our gaze takes us further right we allow our imagination to take us to an open door near the centre. This is the door, or portal to the underworld. Jesus, in death, descends among the dead. There Jesus encounters the pit of evil, imaged through the presence of demons.
But our journey does not end here in the tomb and in the pit of death and despair of the underworld. From the place of the dead, Jesus steps up (toward the right), and we behold the figure of the outside of the tomb. Despite death, we see the re-birthing of life. Though the Stations traditionally end in the tomb, we are gifted and graced at the end of our journey with a foreshadow of what is to come – a new dawn, a new day, a new body. Christ has conquered death by death.