As per Christian tradition, especially of the Catholic, the Anglican and the Lutheran Church from the early Christian era to this day, Christians continue to observe the 14 “Stations of the Cross” or “Ways of the Cross” during Lenten Season. The Latin words Via Dolorosa, literally means the sorrowful road, the path Jesus took from Pilate’s judgment hall to Golgotha to be crucified. Christian tradition says that Mary, the mother of Jesus had marked those places where her son Jesus had stopped, met some in person, stripped, tripped and fell on the way to the Cross as he climbed the Calvary Mountain. The exact number of places was not known but in the early 16th century, in Europe, the 14 Stations tradition was established, which is being followed in Jerusalem as well. Christians meditate 40 days during Lenten season beginning from Ash Wednesday till Good Friday eve. And on Good Friday the meditation is being done on all the 14 stations of the “Way of the Cross” with special theme and prayer on each station to remember the suffering of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the whole creation with the sins of human beings.
According to the tradition the 14 stations are named as follows:
(1) Jesus is condemned to death, (2) he is made to bear his cross, (3) he falls the first time, (4) he meets his mother, (5) Simon of Cyrene is made to bear the cross, (6) Veronica wipes Jesus’ face, (7) he falls the second time, (8) the women of Jerusalem weep over Jesus, (9) he falls the third time, (10) he is stripped of his garments, (11) he is nailed to the cross, (12) he dies on the cross, (13) he is taken down from the cross, and (14) he is placed in the sepulchre.
As we meditate on the ‘Passion of Christ’ I would like to make a short reflection on the 4th Via Dolorosa where we find Jesus met his mother, Mary. I am sure most of us must have watched the movie called “The Passion of the Christ” either in a cinema theatre or at home. It was Mel Gibson’s, one of the best directed movies that received Hollywood Film Award of Producer of the Year in 2004 and Best Director Award in 2005. Some critiques said that it was too much of violence and bloodshed to watch. They may be right in some ways. However, to my understanding, the magnitude of Christ’s suffering and pain that he bore for us on the Via Dolorosa will in no ways be able to portray by the film. The 4th Station “Jesus Meets his Mother” wherein “The Passion of the Christ” significantly focussed that made me shed tears and wondered the depth of bonding and love between the Mother and Son, their courage and strength to take the pain without overwhelming by the crude reality is what prompted me to meditate on this 4th Station at Via Dorolosa.
As the whole world is celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, and the Christian community is observing ‘World Day of Prayer’ on March 5th to ponder on various women’s issues. At this juncture, it is significant to go back to the “Way of the Cross” where “Jesus meets his mother”.
In John’s Gospel 19:25-26 we read,
“25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” (NIV)
This is the only text that we have read from the four Gospels about the encounter of Jesus and his mother Mary. However, the tradition of the Via Dolorosa on the Station 4 that comes soon after “The first fall of Jesus” the Station 3, it is here that Mary came closer to her son, amidst the hatred, scornful screaming of the crowd against her son, she might have tried to reach her son to help him get up from the ground and walk. It is here that the eyes of the Mother and the Son met. This gaze talks millions of unspeakable truth, love, promises, pains and agonies which no one but only the Mother and Son will understand.
This Gaze of Love between the Mother and the Son is the fulfilment of God’s promises. When the angel of God told Mary that she is the chosen one to bear the child of God who will bring Salvation for the world and humanity; Mary understood the course and the consequences of what she had accepted. This Gaze of Love is the assurance between the Mother and the Son – that they stood firm for the fulfilment of God’s salvific plan; this moment is the moment of truth to tell each other ‘I am with you’, ‘I am not going to deny you’, ‘together, we are going to achieve God’s plan in and through us, no matter what the pain and the agony we are going through’, it’s the push and the total support between the Mother and the Son; Mary and her Son never ran away from the crude and painful reality; Mary never said, ‘I am sorry I can’t bear the pain and I can’t see you like this anymore my son, enough is enough’; Mary’s physical and mental support to her son was surely the strength for Jesus to take each and every heavy step forward to reach the hill top; they stood for each other for the fulfilment of God’s plan.
The second encounter of the ‘Gaze of Love’ between the Mother and the Son at the cross had sealed the end of the earthly journey of Jesus, the mission of God through the Mother and the Son had been fulfilled therein.
This ‘Gaze of Love’ is the epitome of the true love in action, to the level where human beings could see and understand the true meaning of Love in Action. It requires trust, faithfulness and genuine relationship.
Being a mother/father, like Mary, have I ever been a strong hold for my children when they needed me the most to take a step forward in their most difficult time? Does my gazing at them communicate God’s Love or am I simply giving them a passive look when they need my love and support to make through their struggles in life? Am I a true Christian gazing at the people to quench their thirst for the Love of God or just like one of the onlookers of Jesus on the Via Dolorosa? There can be many issues we can contemplate upon in this season of Lent. Let us gaze at Jesus like Mary with the ‘Gaze of Love’, and see the Suffering Christ in others and be the agent of God’s Love to make our Lenten Meditation a meaningful one more than ever before.
I would like to conclude this reflection with this beautiful song
God it must have broke your heart, to send your Son away.
Knowing all the time the final price He had to pay.
He left His home in Glory and became a common man.
And because he did, I am what I am.
Cause I’m a child of the King
Who made everything
I’m the child of the one
Who makes my heart to sing,
Songs of joy songs of praise
I’ll sing them all I can
To the one who came and made me what I am.
Now I’m a woman and have a babe of my own.
I wonder could I send my babe off and all alone.
To help someone, somewhere, somehow, or set some captive free.
Or could I do the same for Him who gave His life for me.
Dr. Hrangthan Chhungi,
Director, Church Relations & Resource Mobilisation Department