Note: On Friday, March 5, 2021, the Most Rev. William D. Byrne, the newly installed Bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, visited Thomas Aquinas College, New England. While on campus, he blessed a statue of St. Joseph and the Stations of the Cross in Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel (still under construction). Below is his homily from the midday Mass.
Good afternoon. One of my best priest friends, a guy by the name of Monsignor Panke — his father was a physician in New York, and he was Mother Teresa’s physician. When she would come to New York, he would organize all her medical appointments and pick her up. One day she was in town, and he went to pick her up — he had a brand new car, just picked it up the day before — and she gets in the car says, “Hold on!” She then gets out of the car and goes back into the convent, comes back with a Mary statue and Elmer’s glue, and she takes the Elmer’s glue and places it right on his dashboard, and sticks the Mary statue right there and says, “Now! This is much better, don’t you agree?”
That is the idea of the statues and sacramentals that we so enjoy as Catholics. We are a Roman people. We see the Lord’s love in the visibility, the tangibility of the things of our world, and most especially of holy objects. The reason we have these things is because this is how God made us. When you see someone that you love and you haven’t seen for a while, you don’t just stare at them coldly and say, “Hello, nice to see you.” You say, “Give me a hug! I want to hug you.” I would like to physically embrace my parents, my children. That’s because we are a sacramental people. That is why He gave us visible signs, so that behind them we can see the invisible love of the mystery of His death and resurrection. And so on this day we are blessing the statue of St. Joseph and the Stations of the Cross.
The Stations of the Cross evolved basically because it was impossible for people to get to the holy land and see the holy sites for themselves. So good and faithful priests, most especially the Franciscans, came back to Europe and started to create these scenarios, these scenes. They would build big statues of each different thing. Different places had different sets of numbers; some were 30-something, some were 12, and eventually the Church settled on the 14 that we like and are most comfortable with. We cannot go and necessarily see Calvary this day, this Lent, this Good Friday, but we can take our own spiritual pilgrimage, and that’s what the Stations of the Cross are, they are a mini-pilgrimage. They are a private — or maybe with a group of friends or together as a community — journey in our hearts and minds to the actual places of Our Lord’s passion through these beautiful images.
When we hear this very sad story of the parable that Jesus tells us, it’s always a heartbreaking story for me when the father says, “I know they’ll trust my son, I know they’ll listen to my son” — and him, they kill. And this, of course, is the Father sending His beloved Son to find you and me, to save us, and yet, as we all know, the story ended with His passion. To think of the love of the Father to send His son to heal and to save, to bring His bountiful harvest to each one of us. These Stations of the Cross, this mini-pilgrimage that hopefully you’ll be making frequently during Lent and even out of Lent, is an intensely personal encounter between you and Our Lord.
And so I make a recommendation that, as you do the Stations of the Cross, that after it’s announced, in your heart, you say, “For me. Jesus was condemned to death for me. Jesus falls the first time for me.” This isn’t just a group-corporate salvation moment, it’s an intensely personal intervention into your and my heart and life.
It’s important to remember that the final step is not Good Friday; the story does not end in sorrow. We are an Easter people. Most importantly, brothers and sisters, the Lord rose for me, for you, for us. He is truly present in the Eucharist for me. So we should be as worthy as we possibly can to receive Him, to have him enter into our lives, to adore Him in adoration. And so as we bless these Stations, let them be for every one of us a mini-pilgrimage with Our Lord to His passion and then to the Resurrection, for me, for you, for us.