From the Cross to Justice, reflections by Fr. Steve Kluge, OFM

  1. Jesus is condemned to death.  

The Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that all people are created in the image and likeness of God and are therefore possessors of God-given human dignity.  Before Jesus is ever presented to Pilate, he is interrogated before the religious leaders of his day, and by them spit upon and beaten.  Pilate concedes to the anger of the mob and sentences Jesus to death by crucifixion.  Crucified Lord, help us to remember that you love everyone. And in remembering, give us the courage to treat everyone as your image and likeness no matter how they act.  

  1. Jesus takes up his cross.

Jesus’ baptism was not a baptism of repentance, but a baptism of solidarity with sinners.   Jesus reminds us that even prisoners on death row are not excluded from God’s Self Gift.  His life reminds us that we are in relationship with everyone and everything that is created.   By carrying the cross, he shows us that we have turned many good gifts of our Creator God, including the gift of wood used in making the Ark of Noah, the Ark of the Covenant, the manger, into a means of torture and death.  Lord in whom all things have their being, forgive us for using your creation to create means of torture and death.

  1. Jesus falls for the first time.

The cross was heavy, and the cobblestones streets uneven; so Jesus fell. Too many people fall under the weight of poverty or hunger. I wonder how many fall into despair, desperation, or depression. What is really sad is that the crowd just stood by and watched; and Pilate didn’t change his mind. Jesus, by falling you remind us that humanity as a whole has fallen by the weight of sin.  Help us to get up and begin again. 

  1. Jesus meets his mother.

A loving face in the crowd catches Jesus’ eye.  I can’t imagine the heaviness of heart that a parent of a murdered child, or a raped child, or a bullied child, or an addicted child has.  Even a child on death row.  All victims and perpetrators are someone’s child. Son of Mary, give me the courage to help heal the families hurt by crime: victims and perpetrators.  Let me be a sacrament of solidarity to them all by reminding them that the ties of family and community may be strained, but can never be fully severed.

  1. Simon carries Jesus’ cross.

He only wanted to watch. He never wanted to get involved. Simon was yanked from the crowd to carry, against his will, the means of Jesus’ execution.  This makes me think. Aren’t all who watch in some way participating? We are quick enough to take credit for the good in the world, don’t we then need to take some responsibility for the horrors of the world. We are in the world together; a part of each other. To do nothing, is really to do something after all.  Lord, I see so many bad things going on in the world, show me which of these things I should get actively involved in.

  1. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

The work of Jesus was to show how much God loves us. The sweaty work of carrying the cross, shows us that all who work, no matter what the work, share in a God given dignity and have unalienable rights.  Veronica, a woman of great faith and courage, lives a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable Jesus by cleaning simply cleaning his face. Divine Worker, I see many who labor outside in all types of weather. Give me some idea of what to offer them so as to relieve some of their discomfort.  When I encounter those who work inside, let me not take them for granted but offer them thanks.

  1. Jesus falls a second time.

The road gets worse the closer it gets to the city gate. More tired, and now hungry, Jesus falls again. And Pilate could have stopped this. We see so many refugees forced to leave their homes due to war. They are just as hungry for a peaceful place to raise their families as they are for food.  I wonder how many times they have fallen as they flee. And when they reach the city gate, will it be open? Jesus, you too were a refugee and found safety in Egypt. Everyone finds a safe refuge in you. May everyone find a safe and welcoming refuge in us who call ourselves Christians.

  1. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.

 When Jesus was alive to be a woman meant that you had no rights; and were at the mercy of men.  Being a woman meant that you were more susceptible to becoming poor and vulnerable. Being a woman meant that your God given dignity was often denied and disrespected. Despite his own trials, these women are comforted by the One who most needs comforting. These women have found a man they need not fear. Jesus, as your follower, may no one ever fear me. May I announce the dignity of all people by my thoughts, words, and actions.  

  1. Jesus falls a third time.

Jesus can see the “Place of the Skull” the hill Golgotha looming outside the city walls. He falls under the weight of the cross. He falls under the weight of his baptism. He falls under the weight of his love for all of us.  Pilate could have ended this. But he didn’t. so Jesus gets up and continues his mission.  Lord of our baptism, sometimes being a Catholic is not easy. Sometimes standing up for what you teach us: the dignity of the human person, that respect must be shown to all and all of creation, that public policy must take into account the common good, is not easy. Sometimes we fall and fail. Help us to get up and begin again so that in the end it may be said we have done something good.

  1. Jesus is stripped.

A new humiliation: Jesus is stripped of his tunic.  After Adam and Eve sinned and lost the blessing of living in the garden, God fashioned clothes for them out of leaves.  All people have the right to clothes, food, clean water, decent housing, honest wages for a days-labor, and affordable health care. Respect for human life does not end at birth. Respect for human life must be shown throughout one’s entire life up to and including natural death. Lord, strip me of my false sense of entitlement. Help me to share all that you have given me with those less fortunate. Help me to remember that being wealthy is not the same as being blessed.

  1. Jesus is nailed to the cross.

Death by crucifixion was a horrible way to die. It was a civic message that those who were against the status quo of the state might suffer the same fate, as well as a theological message that said the crucified person was damned by God.  Jesus, I have never nailed anyone to a cross. But I have done little if anything to help those nailed to the cross of poverty, bigotry, addiction, hunger, imprisonment. Help me remember that you live in solidarity with all those on crosses, including me and those whom I find it difficult to love or understand.

  1. Jesus dies.

(A short period of silence).

For the times we have forgotten that all people have a God given dignity…Lord forgive us.

 For continuing to have the death penalty…Lord forgive us.

For the times we have not respected human life…Lord forgive us.

For continuing to have hungry people….Lord forgive us.

For the times when groups of people were denied their rights to participate in the life of community…Lord forgive us.

For continuing to have homeless people…Lord forgive us.

For the times we have forgotten our responsibilities to work for justice…Lord forgive us.

For continuing to disrespect each other through words or deeds…Lord forgive us.

For the times we have forgotten to work for the common good…Lord forgive us.

For continuing to cheapen life beginning with conception…Lord forgive us.

For the times we have preferred the rich instead of the poor and vulnerable…Lord forgive us.

For continuing to devalue the dying…Lord forgive us.

For the times we have forgotten the rights of workers and their dignity…Lord forgive us.

For continuing to make monetary profits more important than people…Lord forgive us.

For the times we have forgotten that we are interdependent on each other…Lord forgive us.

For continuing discrimination in all its forms…Lord forgive us.

For the times we have abused or neglected to care for creation…Lord forgive us.

For refusing to offer hospitality to the hopeless…Lord forgive us.

For the times we have not prayed or worked for peace…Lord forgive us.

For choosing not to imitate your love…Lord forgive us.

  1. Jesus is taken down from the cross.

When the show is over, people leave. Secret friends remove the nails from his hands and feet and his body is taken down and given to his mother.  So many people are hanging on the cross of hunger, poverty, all those systems that strip people of their dignity and respect. But a few of us Lord are working to take them off their crosses and offer healing and community. A few of us try to show respect to those who don’t think they are worthy of respect.  Lord, give me the insight to act on my responsibility as a baptized to stand in solidarity with people who are crucified and them off their crosses.

  1. Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Jesus lived a life where he had no place of his own to lay his head at night. It’s fitting that he now doesn’t even have his own grave; his grave is borrowed. A womb of sister mother earth, becomes his tomb. We too often forget that we have a responsibility toward our planet. We need to nurture it and all the creatures God has given into our care. Lord of heaven and earth, the seas and all they contain, show me how to act as a good steward of creation. Help me to understand that I am a part of it all, and that the world is a home to be shared by all.

  1. The resurrection.

Death does not have the last word, and nothing is forever lost in death. We don’t go to God alone, but take our memories and loves with us. Life has the last word. Love has the last word. God has the last word. We rise, not to this life, but to the fullness of life, divine life. Who will I take with me when I die? Jesus rose with the wounds of his love. What love wounds will I show to God when at last I fully stand before Him?


Stations of our Lives in the Stations of the Cross

Station 1: In what ways do we concede to the mob mentality and operate in a reactive, angry, defensive, self-righteous, or self-justified way? Who today experiences mistreatment from the collective/mob? What does condemnation look like in our everyday lives? What does condemnation look like in the media and political sphere?

Station 2: What is solidarity? What does solidarity with sinners look like? How is doing acts of charity similar and different than solidarity? Why do we as a people continue to turn God’s gifts into instruments of torture and death? What larger good do we think torture and capital punishment provide to society? Is this necessary in the contemporary world?

Station 3: Who in our lives and communities live under the weight of sin, under the weight of poverty and hunger and other injustices? What are some of their stories? Are we in relationship with these people? If not, why? Why are we reluctant to help? What’s involved in taking the risk to move out of the mob/crowd and getting involved in works of charity and justice?

Station 4: Are you a mother? Father? Grandparent? We are all children of a mother and father. What does the love of parent feel like – in its fullest sense? How is this like God’s love? What children in our midst are in dire need of this kind of love today? How does Mary (in this station, or in her prayer Magnificat or in the image of the Pieta, for example) model for us this kind of love?

Station 5: How have we been drawn (sometimes dragged) into this life of discipleship? What is our reaction when we hear about or see the horrors of the world? Do we feel sad, overwhelmed, paralyzed, empathetic, curious, compelled to action, or perhaps another feeling? What would it look like to be more involved in the messiness of suffering of others, like Simon?

Station 6: In what ways does Veronica inspire us to see and reach out to the face of the poor and vulnerable today? Who lives in the shadows in our society that we rely on for our everyday comforts? What would it look like to live with more tenderness, sensitivity, and gratitude with those who are struggling for their daily bread?

Station 7: What makes a refugee a refugee? What would it be like to suddenly lose our sense of security and way of life? In what ways has COVID-19 awakened us to a sense of solidarity with others in the world who live in perpetual fear of famine, war, persecution, disease, unemployment, lack of medical care, food insecurity? One of the most common images of God in the Psalms is God as our Refuge or Rock – the One who ultimately provides safety, security, stability, strength, a sense of home. How does this image of God provide for us a sense of comfort and hope? How can our church be this “refuge” and “rock” for others?

Station 8: Are women still treated unequally in our society? Are there other groups in our society whose dignity, voice, and rights are marginalized? How might our relationship with Jesus empower us to claim our mutual inherent dignity? How can we be an empowered people without needing to reinforce unjust systems of oppression, create unnecessary competition with another, or use fear and scapegoating to make us feel better about ourselves at the expense of another? Can we think of story where our service of others improved their lot and indirectly improved ours? 

Station 9: In what ways do we sometimes expect life to be easy and prosperous because we believe in God and follow Jesus? How do the gospels suggest otherwise? When have we stood up for what we believe in a way that felt vulnerable, risky, or costly? How did that feel? Carrying the cross, bearing the weight of being a disciple, requires commitment, perseverance, courage, and resiliency. What kinds of things help us when we fall to get up and begin again? Who is someone we might offer encouragement to today who is struggling to get up and begin again?

Station 10: What are the privileges, entitlements, and riches that we have? Our education, our race, our income, our access to goods and services, our investments, our freedom, our class, our sexuality, our gender, our faith, our work? How did we come to have them? How do they define us? How do they help us or hinder us to love God and neighbor? What do we need to be stripped of in order to follow Jesus more faithfully, to love my neighbor with more compassion? What might we give up today so that another might have more?

Station 11: What are the ways people are crucified today? What are ways we as a society or individuals still use instruments of torture, cruel and retributive forms of punishment, or shame to deter behavior deemed bad? How might we imagine systems of correction and criminal justice that facilitate mercy, healing, and rehabilitation? How is our silence about our unjust systems a sin of omission? Who are some people we find difficult to extend mercy, to understand, and love? What can we do today to extend mercy to those being nailed to their crosses?

Station 12: Our hearts are forever changed by God’s love, by Jesus’ giving of his own life to show us what this love looks like. Jesus has helped us remember who we are, what our deepest values are, what makes life worth living. Yet, it is so easy to forget everything, to run from the cross in embarrassment, to build a golden calf to worship when the going gets tough. How can we better remember God’s love? What might we do to cultivate a living memory of this love? What idols do we build that distract us and cause us to forget who we are and what we are about? How do we put profits over people as a society? What measures might society or we, individually, put up to assure the dignity of all people be respected and protected?

Station 13: Vulnerable people need communities of care and healing. What organizations are in my community that help people off their crosses? What organizations in my community are working to make sure people are not crucified in the first place? What are the needs of these organizations, and how might we support their work? Can we imagine creating a new network of care and community in our neighborhood or city that address an unaddressed need?

Station 14:  Where do we see harm inflicted on Sister Earth, our common home? How do we feel to see the earth polluted, ecosystems compromised, clean water and air diminished, and the earth warming? What are ways we could change our lifestyles to better steward God’s creation? Do we feel a sense of connection to some natural landscape? What might we do this week to reclaim a posture of silence and wonder with the natural world in order to remember our connection to it?  How might we seek and elect leaders that have proven capable of considering long-terms results, assessing environmental risks and impacts, and embodying the courage and responsibility Pope Francis names as necessary to protect all life?

Station 15: What are our “love wounds”? How has this life of mercy, justice, and peace led to our souls being pierced by love? What are our life’s deepest longings, and how might we see these longings already being offered to us in God’s resurrected love? What hope do we see in the world? How is the Kingdom of God already in our midst?

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