(click on the image to read the meditations for each station)
“If someone were to catch sight of his homeland from afar, separated by the sea, he would see his destination but lack the means of reaching it. So it is with us… We glimpse our goal across the sea of the present age… But to enable us to go there, the One who is our goal came to us… he brought us the plank by we can make the passage. No one may cross the sea of his age, unless he be carried by the cross of Christ… So do not forsake the cross, and the cross will carry you.”
These words of Saint Augustine, taken from his Commentary on John’s Gospel (2,2) introduce us to the prayer of the Way of the Cross.
The Way of the Cross is meant to help us cling to the wood of Christ’s cross through the seas of life. It is not merely a sentimental, popular devotion; rather, it expresses the core of the Christian experience: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34).
For this reason each Good Friday the Holy Father makes the Way of the Cross before the whole world and in communion with it.
This year, Pope Benedict XVI turned to the world of Augustinian Nuns for the texts of the prayer, entrusting their composition to Sister Maria Rita Piccione, O.S.A., Mother President of the Our Lady of Good Counsel Federation of Augustinian Monasteries in Italy.
Sister Mary Rita is a member of the Augustian hermitage of Lecceto, near Siena, one of the Tuscan convents of the thirteenth century and a cradle of the Order of Saint Augustine. She is currently a member of the community of the Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome, the site of the house of formation for all Augustinian novices and professed sisters in Italy.
The texts are thus the work of an Augustinian nun, but the illustrations also draw their form and colour from a feminine and Augustinian artistic sensibility. Sister Elena Maria Manganelli, O.S.A., of the hermitage of Lecceto, formerly a professional sculptress, created the pictures which illustrate the various stations of the Way of the Cross.
This interplay of word, form and colour gives us a taste of Augustinian spirituality, inspired by the early community of Jerusalem and based on communion of life.
The preparation of this Way of the Cross was born, then, of the experience of nuns who “live together, reflect, pray and dialogue”, to cite Romano Guardini’s lively and insightful description of an Augustinian monastic community.
Each station is announced by its traditional title, followed by a short phrase which offers a starting-point for meditation on that station. We can imagine these words as spoken by a child, as a reminder of the simplicity of the little ones who see to the heart of things, and a sign of openness, in the Church’s prayer, to the voice of childhood, at times abused and exploited.
The readings from the Word of God are drawn from the Gospel of John, except for those stations which lack a corresponding text or where the text is found in other Gospels. This shows a desire to emphasize the message of glory proclaimed by the cross of Jesus.
The biblical text is then illustrated by a reflection which is brief, clear and original.
The prayer, addressed to “Jesus most humble” – an expression dear to the heart of Augustine (cf. Conf. 7, 18, 24) – abandons the adjective humble at the crucifixion-exaltation of Christ, and is the avowal which the Church as Bride makes to her Bridegroom.
This is followed by an invocation to the Holy Spirit who guides our steps and pours the love of God into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5): here the Apostolic-Petrine Church knocks at the door of God’s heart.
Each station takes up a particular footprint left by Christ along the Way of the Cross, a footstep in which the believer is called to tread. The steps which mark the Way of the Cross, then, are truth, honesty, humility, prayer, obedience, freedom, patience, conversion, perseverance, simplicity, kingship, self-giving, maternity, silent expectation.
The pictures of Sister Elena Maria – austere in form and colour – present Jesus, alone in his passion, as he passes through the arid land digging a furrow and watering it by his grace. A ray of light, ever present and set in the form of a cross, alludes to the gaze of the Father, while the shadow of a dove, the Holy Spirit, recalls that Christ “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” (Heb 9:14).
In offering this prayer of the Way of the Cross, the Augustinian Nuns wish to render a homage of love to the Church and to the Holy Father, in full harmony with the particular devotion and fidelity to the Church and the Popes professed by the Augustinian Order.
We are grateful to Sister Maria Rita and Sister Elena Maria who, nourished by constant meditation on the Word of God and the writings of Saint Augustine, and sustained by the prayer of the Communities of the Federation, agreed to share with utter simplicity their experience of Christ and the Paschal Mystery in a year when Easter falls on 24 April, the anniversary of the Baptism of Saint Augustine.