Stations of the Cross Then and Now by Fr Denis Mcbride CSSR, Redemptorist, £13
‘The Way of the Cross is not confined to a lonely road in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago: it is a busy highway winding through every village, town and city in our modern world.” And so the cover of Fr Denis McBride’s new book highlights German artist Curd Lessig’s tragic image of Mary, weeping over her crucified Son, newly taken down from the Cross. But the cover also shows a photograph which pierced the hearts of millions: that of a Turkish policeman lifting three-year-old Syrian Alan Kurdi from the shore on which his little body had been washed up.
Both Jesus and Alan were innocent victims of someone else’s abuse of power. The difference is that we are accustomed to seeing images of the Pietà: countless pilgrims have clustered around Michelangelo’s serenely peaceful masterpiece in St Peter’s. Although Lessig has tried to convey the tragedy and the horror of the Way of the Cross, his art still falls within a recognised artistic genre. The same cannot be said of a policeman carrying a drowned child’s body, unable to look the young boy in the face.
Take another example. It takes little effort to imagine Jesus’s relief as Simon of Cyrene lifts the weight of the cross from his shoulders. What about a man who wades out of the sea at Lesbos, his two children clinging to him? They are safe at last. Relief is etched into his facial expression. Nothing will ever obliterate the terror and insecurity of the migrant family’s journey from North Africa. But in reaching the small Greek island, the father’s burden of responsibility is lifted and shared with people who only wish them good, not harm.
For every Station of the Cross, there is a modern parallel. So it is that Fr McBride, in Stations of the Cross Then and Now, does not limit himself or the reader to events of 2,000 years ago. Instead, he brings the Via Crucis into the 21st century and into our own experience. He reflects on each event of the traditional 14 stations, so familiar to us all, but, in the same breath, he brings those situations into the here and now, reflecting on parallel occasions in the lives of people of our time.
Some of those stories, and even the photographs are well known to us: Blessed Oscar Romero, St Teresa of Calcutta, Abu Ghraib, Costa Concordia, the Twin Towers. But in following the media reports, did we make the link with Jesus’s journey to Calvary?
Stations of the Cross Then and Now is a powerful book. In his introduction, Fr McBride says: “I did not write these stations for public performance, but for devotion: anyone can make the Way of the Cross at home. After all, it is there, for many people, that they live out their own suffering.”
For each station, Fr McBride presents a passage from Scripture, reflecting on its meaning with the help of a Lessig painting. He then uses a modern photograph to bring that station into the reader’s personal world, finally bringing together the “then” and “now” in prayer. These prayers have their own poignancy and relevance, coming as they do from such sources as the Psalms, the Song of Songs … and Buchenwald concentration camp.
As Fr McBride says: “The Gospel comes alive best when the story of Jesus and our own story meet and merge: we learn not only that the story of Jesus throws light on our own, but, paradoxically, that our own story can throw new light on the story of Jesus.”
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