Walking has become a national obsession. Year round the malls, streets and tracks are dotted with a disconnected army of sweating men, women and children in a colorful array of sports togs and tights feverishly trying to beat the time clock of life’s grim reaper. Several charities have harnessed this inner drive to amass millions in donations.
I walk primarily to get where I am going not for the “walker’s high” that I sometimes get when I walk fast and for a long distance. My wife and I made the “walk” down Constitution Ave in 2008 in recognition of the 50,000,000 lives wasted because of the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. These are just a few of the many different motivations that compel people to lace up their Nikes, don their Under Armors and hit the street, paths and treadmills.
On the opening night of my parish’s Lenten Mission a few years ago, the visiting priest asked us, what was Jesus’ ‘best’ homily? His Sermon on the Mount or quite possibly the Last Supper immediately came to mind. While he said both were excellent answers, there was something much better. Before answering his own question, he talked on the beauties and importance of the many walks in life, from the graduation walk, the walk down the aisle on a wedding day to the leisure stroll with friends and family.
A priest for 40 years, he had only recognized Jesus’ “best sermon” 10 years prior. He said Jesus’ best homily depicted the most important walk in the history of the world and it was on the walls of every church he had ever walked into—the Stations of the Cross. In meditating on the stations, the priest found that they were a microcosm of the Catholic faith. Every time he looked at that walk on the wall it if was as if Jesus was saying to him in the words of Mark, Come Follow Me.
The first lesson is that we must stop judging people for what they have and who they are because we are all God’s children. On His second stop Jesus is telling us to stop our complaining. Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing and yet He was tortured and sentenced to death but never complained.
At stops three, seven and nine Jesus falls to the ground but despite His pain and suffering He got up again—He never quit! In the battles of the flesh and the spirit, we must never give up! In the middle of His walk, Simon of Cyrene was enlisted to help Jesus carry His burden. Similarly, many of us have been called as caregivers and helpers to ease the burdens of those close to us who may have a difficult time carrying their crosses of disease, old age or personal affliction. At stops four, six and eight, Jesus had sound advice for a world that preaches that happiness can only be found where there is no pain or suffering.
Jesus’ touching encounter with His Mother Mary, who found immense joy within the pangs of the suffering of childbirth, echoed the profound words of St. James’ Epistle, Count it all joy my brethren, when you meet various trials for you know that the testing of your faith, produces steadfastness.
To the compassionate Veronica He leaves His image in blood and sweat that she would joyously treasure forever. To the women of Jerusalem, His message was for them to stop their weeping over His suffering but focus on their children because children who bring joy, laughter and renew the spirit of life. At the 10th station Jesus tells us to love the material things of the world but not to make them the center of our being. At the next stop Jesus talks about pain. Father added that everyone is handicapped in some way. Jesus never complained during His long and deadly ordeal. He offered it up to His Father for us.
Jesus also invites us to join Him in the cross of suffering, not because suffering is wonderful but by offering up our pains and suffering for others they will serve as a vehicle of His healing grace. Before we can finish our walk we must let go of our bitterness, grudges and forgive those who have wronged us. While Jesus’ walk was to His death on the Cross, our walk is on a path to life eternal. Next time you go into a Church, take a few moments to “listen” to His best homily.
I fear that millions of Catholics will not understand this sermon. I was in a parking lot sometime ago and I saw a confusing bumper sticker. This one said: I am against the death penalty. That’s all well and good but it was the following statement that nearly knocked me over.
Look what it did to Jesus! What a revelation! The death penalty killed Christ and not His own people, with a reluctant Roman compliance, who rejected everything He stood for fear of their loss of power. I would love to have asked the auto owner where would we all be had Jesus not lost His life on the Cross? Would man’s salvation have been achieved had Jesus died by a drive-by-shooting or of cardiac arrest as an old man?
Even my own Catholic Newspaper, the St. Louis Review missed the importance of Jesus’ salvific walk many years ago when it published a cartoon of Christ hanging on the Cross with the caption: This is what the death penalty did! To miss this salient feature underscores the extent that our own media have succumbed to the secularization of religious faith in this world.