4 Lessons from Stations of the Cross


The season of Lent is upon us. During these 40 days leading up to the most sacred period of our Liturgical Year – the Triduum – we are called to draw near to God and our neighbors through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. While there are many ways to integrate these holy practices into our lives, both communally and individually, one of the most well-known Lenten devotions is the Stations of the Cross.

Commemorating Jesus’ journey to Calvary, the Stations of the Cross mark the 14 moments comprising his passion and death. Followers of Jesus are invited to both remember and join Jesus as they imaginatively walk alongside him by praying the Stations. 

The Stations of the Cross, as a prayerful practice, began centuries ago when Christians in the Medieval period made pilgrimages to the Holy Land to walk on the actual ground where Jesus took the final steps to his human death. Since that time, most Catholic Churches around the world have integrated this “Way of the Cross” into their design by including artistic depictions – be they sculptures, paintings, or stained glass windows – of the 14 stations around the periphery of their building.

But you don’t need to be in the Holy Land, or a church for that matter, to pray the Stations. Any place where you can call to mind Jesus’s passion, whether through memory or with the help of a guide, is a place where you can pray this meaningful devotion.

The Stations of the Cross have become an integral aspect of my Lenten prayer life, and not just because they remind me of the story that is at the heart of our faith. The Stations help me to remember who I am and they teach me how to be a better human in the world.

Here are four lessons that the Stations of the Cross teach me:

Life isn’t fair

Okay, it’s not exactly accurate to say that the Stations of the Cross teach me that life isn’t fair, because this is a lesson that I have known for years. I’ve heard these three words – “life’s not fair!” – since I was a child protesting a punishment, limit, or other decision my parents or teachers made…and now I repeat the same words to my children. But knowing the message intellectually doesn’t mean that I always feel the truth of the point on an emotional level, and sometimes I need spiritual reminders.

The first station of the cross, Jesus is Condemned, provides this for me. In this station, Jesus stands on trial before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, having been accused by the Sanhedrin – an elite council of priestly and lay elders – of blasphemy. The Sanhedrin, deeply threatened by Jesus’s teachings, claimed that Jesus called himself the King of the Jews. The Gospels name no time in which Jesus referred to himself as King, and when Pilate asked Jesus  “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered “So you say.” Despite the lack of evidence, Pilate sentenced Jesus to death on a cross, which seems, well, unfair. 

But life isn’t fair. 

Sometimes we get the short end of the stick. Sometimes we’re accused of something we didn’t do. Sometimes others get credit for the good that we have accomplished. Sometimes our efforts don’t reap rewards. In each of these situations, we have a choice in how we respond to the unfairness. Do we yell, complain, whine, and give up? Or, like Jesus, do we – acting in humility, trust, and love – keep trying to do the right thing? 

Sometimes the best way we can support a loved one in pain is to bear witness to their pain

“What can I do?” This is often the first question that comes to our lips when we hear that a neighbor, friend or family member is going through a difficult time. We want to prepare a meal, or watch their kids, or cheer them up with a care package. These are all good impulses, and don’t get me wrong, I think that these are wonderful gifts to offer to our loved ones in their times of need. But sometimes, there is nothing physical that they need more than they need our presence with them, bearing witness to their pain, sorrow, and suffering. The fourth station of the Cross, Jesus Meets his Mother, reminds us of the value of showing up for our loved ones during their darkest moments, like Mary showed up for Jesus. 

Don’t give up; get up

Jesus falls not once, not twice, but three times as he carries his cross to Calvary. And he gets up from the ground not once, not twice, but three times. Can you imagine the exhaustion that Jesus must have felt – physically, mentally, and spiritually – each time his body hit the ground? And yet, he found the courage, strength and willingness to persevere.

I can think of several examples of times in my life when I feel like I just keep falling (or failing) – when I work hard at a relationship but arguments keep surfacing; when I try to instill strong emotional regulation skills in my toddler, but meltdowns keep happening; when I spend time in prayer and go to Mass regularly, but doubts still plague me. Here, I have something to learn from Jesus and the way he persisted. Three times, he got up after falling instead instead of giving up after falling.

We can be kind, even if we’re having a bad day

I’ve often heard people say, after encountering an unpleasant receptionist/driver/person-at-the-grocery-store/etc., something along the lines of, “It’s important to be kind no matter how rude or disrespectful someone might be, because we don’t know what they are going through.” While I agree 100% with these sentiments – we don’t know what people are going through; we should always treat our neighbors (in the broadest sense of the word) with kindness, regardless of how they treat us – I don’t like the logic that accompanies the statement, which seems to say “People who are going through difficult times get a free pass to be mean and grumpy.” Because, while we can show others grace and forgiveness when they treat us in a less than friendly way, I like to keep myself in the habit of being caring and kind no matter what my circumstances might be.

Jesus, in the eighth station of the cross, Jesus Consoles the Women, provides an excellent example of this. Jesus is quite literally walking to his death – I’d wager it’s the hardest, most painful day of his life – and he still finds it within himself to be a source of compassion to the women of Jerusalem. 

May you have a holy season of Lent in which you drawn near to God and learn from Jesus and his way of the cross.

1 comment

  • Kristina Petersen

    What a beautiful article. Thank you for this! A great reflection to start off my week. God bless you!

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