Reimagining The Stations Of The Cross

Judith Valente
12 min readMar 24, 2024
An outdoor Station of the Cross depicts Jesus carved out of stone, struggling to carry a wooden cross surrounded by statues of Roman centurions.
Contemplating the Stations of The Cross offers insights into the difficulties we might be experiencing in daily life. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops)

Several years ago, when I was a young reporter in the Chicago bureau of The Wall Street Journal, my good friend the writer Eileen Durkin — herself a young lay minister in those days at Old St. Patrick’s Church in the city — asked me to write a reflection on one of the Stations of the Cross. I never did. I felt too inadequate to the task.

Last weekend, though, I guided a Lenten retreat at the Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center in West Hartford, CT. The retreat center has a set of impressive wooden outdoor Stations, chronicling the Passion of Jesus. Though I’ve walked along the Stations at many sites before, this time for some reason reflecting on the intense human suffering Jesus endured left a profound impression on me.

This past week, I began reading the reflections various people have written about the Stations over the centuries. I decided to meditate on each of the events that took place that momentous day in Jesus’ life and attempt to write a brief reflection on each of the 14 stations, giving them a distinctly 21st century bent.

As we head toward Good Friday, I offer these reflections to you in the hope that these few thoughts might be a springboard to prayer during Holy Week.

1. Jesus Is Condemned

One of the hardest things to accept in life is not being seen for who we truly are. It might be the gay son who cannot come out to his parents, or the young woman struggling with gender identity. You might have encountered an overly negative supervisor who unjustly criticizes your work in order to compensate for his or her own feelings of inadequacy. In my own life, even after 18 years of marriage, I’ve never been accepted by my two adult stepdaughters. Few of us though, are as misjudged as Jesus: a faithful Jew who was considered a blasphemer; a welcomer of outsiders who was labeled an outcast; a healer who was accused of being a criminal. Yet, he “said not a word.” That has always amazed me. Who wouldn’t want to shout out angrily over being so unjustly judged? This first station reminds us life won’t always be fair. We will not be universally loved or seen for who we are. Can we become secure enough in our being so that when confronted with misjudgment, we remain secure and can imitate Jesus, who “said not a word.”

2. Jesus Carries His Cross

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan writes in his autobiography that his grandmother once told him to remember that “Everyone you’ll ever meet is fighting a hard battle.” In other words, everyone is carrying some kind of cross. Some of us just hide it better than others. When we encounter a grouchy cashier at the supermarket, a difficult neighbor, a negative boss, it might be worthwhile to pause and reflect on what might be the unseen battles they are fighting, what might be their crosses. Often we chalk up our own bad behavior to just having a “bad day.” It’s a lot harder to be forgiving with others, especially if their behavior is particularly hurtful or damaging to us. Here is where it might be helpful to do a little creative visualization. Can we perhaps imagine that person dragging along a weighty wooden cross? Would we then be a little more likely to forgive them their lapses, as we hope they would forgive ours?

3. Jesus Falls The First Time

When we stumble and fall, it’s natural to feel silly, even angry with ourselves. Still, it’s inevitable that once in a while we are going to slip up, falter, make a misstep. We are not going to be at our peak every day that we go to work. Likewise with the spiritual life. Some days we will feel intensely connected to the sacred, others far removed from God. There is a handy Benedictine saying about walking the spiritual path: I rise and I fall; I fall and I rise. One can only imagine how heavy the wooden cross was that Jesus was forced to carry. Think of the heaviest piece of furniture you ever tried to lift, and them imagine having to carry it up a hill. That Jesus fell along the way was only natural. It didn’t mean he wasn’t strong, only that he was also human. Though much of life is a case of putting one foot I front of the other, we won’t — and can’t — be sure-footed 100 percent of time. Can we be patient and show ourselves self-compassion in those times we do stumble and fall?

4. Jesus Meets His Mother

My mother has been gone for more than 20 years, but I still dream about her some nights, so that she still feels present in my life. I usually have those dreams when I am feeling overwhelmed or have an important decision to make. My mother never second-guessed my decisions but tried to support me in whatever road I decided to take. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about this moment between Jesus and his mother. Did Mary offer some encouraging words? What could she say, confronted with the intense suffering her son was enduring? And what would Jesus say that might console his mother? Still, this is perhaps one of the most tender scenes in Scripture. Perhaps we don’t have to say anything when we encounter someone experiencing great suffering, say, the loss of a loved one, a debilitating illness, the end of a relationship. Perhaps it is enough just to be there, as Mary was.

5. Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus To Carry His Cross

Simon is one of the most curious of characters in the Passion story. He apparently was a passerby, an observer on the scene with no apparent overt connection to Jesus, who is essentially dragooned by the Roman guards into assisting Jesus. What’s so endearing about Simon is that he doesn’t run away, he doesn’t refuse to help. He steps in to aid a stranger, and an outcast at that. In today’s world, Simon is the person who sees an elderly woman juggling two bags of groceries and offers to help her carry them home. Who sees a car on the side of the road and stops to check if everyone is all right and if help is on the way. Jesus too is instructing us in this scene. We Americans tend to pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency. Still, it is not only necessary, but it is also right to ask for help when we need it. Surely, we all have benefited at some point in our lives from the aid of a Simon. How often, though, have we been a Simon for others?

6. Veronica Wipes The Face Of Jesus

Like Simon, Veronica also comes to the aid of Jesus. But unlike Simon, who is forced to help, Veronica comes forward at personal risk to wipe the blood and sweat from Jesus’ face and forehead. She calls to mind for me the friends I have who have traveled to the U.S-Mexican border to help bring food and clothing to people seeking asylum from dangerous and dire living conditions in their home countries. Veronica is every doctor, nurse, EMT and hospital worker who kept on working through the Covid 19 pandemic when showing up meant putting their own lives at risk. A part of her is in every hospice worker, every fire fighter, every person who marches in the streets against racial injustice or for human rights. Every time we visit a sick person, write a letter to someone who lives alone, offer comforting words to someone who is feeling despair, we become like Veronica. Who needs our care, our attention today?

Modern style painting depicting 6th Station of the Cross with a dark-skinned Veronica wiping the face of Jesus.
A modern depiction of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus in the 6th Station of the Cross. (Photo courtesy of St. Mary Margaret Church, Winter Park, FL)

7. Jesus Falls A Second Time

As if it wasn’t enough to fall once, Jesus endures the same indignity for a second time. What does it mean to fall again? We like to think that once we’d made a mistake, we’ve learned our lesson and won’t make the same error twice. That is just now how life happens, though. We don’t always learn that quickly and we don’t always succeed at everything we try. And yet, sometimes failing to meet the goal we set can set the scene for achieving something far different and often better. It is interesting to note too that Jesus falls, but he does not stay on the ground. By whatever measure of strength he has left, he lifts himself up. He carries on. When we are faced with a disappointing setback, can we do the same? Can we remember that our time on the ground is only temporary? We lift ourselves back up again.

8. Jesus Meets The Women Of Jerusalem

While the church has traditionally relegated women to subordinate roles, that’s not the case in many of the gospels. It is the women who come forward to weep for Jesus. One might ask, where are the men who previously were so ready to seek Jesus’ healing powers? Nowhere to be found, apparently. Like Veronica, these women are brave enough to show their support for a condemned man. Something else is at work here too. Though Jesus is bloodied and exhausted, he stops to speak to the women. I think of the advice a friend once gave to me at a very low moment of my life. Help others, she said. It worked because it took the focus off of me and my issues and placed it on others. In the Scripture that accompanies this Station, Jesus also gives the women a rather cryptic message, telling them not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children. Can Jesus be predicting how chaotic and self-centered the world will remain? If so, it is even more important to reach out to others even when - and especially when - we ourselves are suffering in some way.

9. Jesus Falls A Third Time

The third fall emphasizes Jesus’ utter exhaustion and weakness. Still, it recalls the words he spoke in his sermon on the Mount: blessed are the meek, blessed are those who suffer for justice’s sake. And yet, somehow Jesus manages to persevere in those final steps to Calvary. When I meditate on this third fall, I think of the utter weariness and devastation that the people of Ukraine must feel after two years of a brutal war. I think of what the civilians of Gaza are experiencing as they face displacement, starvation, lack of medical care, and near-constant bombardment. I think of refugees crossing seas in flimsy boats to get to the European mainland, the families who risk drowning the crossing the Rio Grande to enter the United States. When we see images of people suffering, do we also see the face of Jesus?

10. Jesus’ Clothes Are Taken Away

Have you ever dreamed that you are somewhere outside or in front of other people and you are fully or partially naked? It is a fairly common anxiety dream and one I myself have fairly regularly. It’s usually a metaphor for feeling vulnerable, totally exposed. I’m reminded of the cruelty of the Nazis who often executed their prisoners, including the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, after forcing them to remove their clothes. In the current war in Gaza, video has emerged of Palestinian men suspected of being Hamas members being stripped to their underwear and forced to kneel outdoors after being captured by Israeli soldiers. Sadly, U.S. military interrogators were convicted during the Iraq War of taking photos of naked prisoners and of perpetrating even worse physical abuse in the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison. It is all a way of removing a person’s human dignity. That Jesus suffered the same kind of indignity and abuse reminds us that no one is to be treated in this manner — not a prisoner, not a perceived ‘enemy,’ no one.

11. Jesus Is Nailed To The Cross

The word excruciating derives from the same root as crucifixion. It connotes a type of almost indescribable agony. In a crucifixion, the dying process endures for hours. Its victims experience blood loss, exposure, exhaustion and eventually succumb to suffocation. Can anyone imagine a crueler death? It is any wonder Jesus utters the words, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment, Jesus is being fully human. When we feel burdened by health challenges, by crushing disappointments or betrayals, we too sometimes want to utter similar words. It is important to remember in those moments that Jesus’ death on the cross is not the end of the story. It is the beginning of another quite amazing story. God did not abandon Jesus. God will not abandon us.

12. Jesus Dies On The Cross

Scripture writers offer us two other powerful scenes at the foot of the cross. Both involve the mercy and compassion of Jesus. One of Jesus’ final acts before dying is to commend his mother to the care of his loved and trusted follower, John. It is a tender scene and one where once again, Jesus behaves as most of us would facing a terminal illness, an imminent death: we want assurance that those we love will be all right after we are gone. The other is the exchange between Jesus and the two men who are condemned to die beside him. One mocks him for not using the healing powers he has previously shown to save himself and the two of them. The other condemned man acknowledges his own faults and the utter injustice of Jesus’ sentence. He asks in humility, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Some uncanny intuition has given that second man a sense that Jesus indeed has a kingdom that is not like any on earth. I hope that when the hour of my death comes, I too will have the humbleness to express remorse for my own shortcomings, and send up the heartfelt prayer, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

13. Jesus Is Taken Down From The Cross

Who can blame Jesus’ friends for believing that all was lost at that moment when their leader’s limp, lifeless body is removed from the cross. It must have felt like the most devastating failure that anyone could experience. As Pope Francis has written, “If at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus … and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, in the failure of the cross.” The operative words here are “humanly speaking.” So often we think a seeming failure, an unrealized outcome, marks the final word on an effort or phase of our lives. And yet, so many times that seeming setback contains the seed of something new and better. That has been the case many times in my own life where a disappointment led to a new and unexpected opportunities. It recalls Thomas Merton’s famous words to a young peace activist who wondered whether his efforts would amount to any good. Merton wrote, “The real hope, then is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in a way we cannot see.”

14. Jesus Is Laid In The Tomb

Native Americans have a ritual in times when they are seeking discernment on a matter. They will descend into a cave dug out from the earth. This cave is called a kiva, a tomblike structure where they remain until some sense of illumination comes. There is always a ladder leading out of the kiva back into the light. There are times when we have to retreat from our regular practices and to spend some time away from our daily routines so we can discern the path ahead of us more clearly. Without Jesus’ tomb, there could have been no resurrection. Likewise, there are parts of ourselves, there are habits we might need to leave behind in our inner kiva so that we can emerge from that tomb embracing what is truly essential and life-giving for us. The story of Jesus’ crucifixion ends with yet another act of generosity. Joseph of Arimathea emerges to offer Jesus his own tomb to rest in. As Easter Sunday approaches, how can we prepare for that event with acts of kindness? And what aspects of our behavior, of our personality, need to remain behind main in the tomb? What is the new life we want to head toward?

Praying the Stations of the Cross reminds us that death and despair and never the final word in the narrative of Christ. (Photo courtesy of St. Anthony Church, Three Rivers, CA)



Judith Valente

Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.