Published March 22, 2007
When you begin reading “Step by Step to Calvary,” you may feel you have entered another dimension of time.
Suddenly, you are thrust backward in history, to a gray and foreboding day, when a bloodthirsty crowd gathered to demand the death of Jesus Christ.
This sensation of time travel is not by accident. Instead, in the book’s preface, there is mention of a mystical doctrine known as anamnesis. This refers to the belief that by recounting a past event, we mystically participate in it.
It is this same mystical theory that explains how our presence at the Mass is also our presence at the Last Supper, at the cross and at the empty tomb.
This sense of presence with Christ makes Angela M. Burrin’s reflective book a rare Lenten treasure. In her heart-rending descriptions of Jesus’ journey to the cross, you can almost hear the shouts of the crowd, the weeping of his mother and his own sighing.
Each section also has beautiful prayers and reflections that tie Jesus’ suffering to our own personal struggles.
As a lovely bonus, there are full-color reproductions of paintings by an 18th-century Italian artist, Giandomenico Tiepolo, from his series called “The Way of the Cross.” These were commissioned for the Oratory of the Crucified Christ at the Church of San Paolo in Venice.
As you reflect on these stunning images, you get a gut-wrenching sense of the cruelty of the crowd that has gathered to witness a death with the same interest they might express in a carnival.
In each scene, the crowd’s cruelty is contrasted with the utter exhaustion and sorrow on the face of the One who will be killed.
Nature itself seems to be weeping as Jesus undergoes His agonizing death. The sky is a watery gray, and there is not a speck of green in the landscape.
Each Station of the Cross has a poignant reflection that artfully weaves Old and New Testament details about the story of Jesus’ final hours.
The moment-by-moment recounting of His arrest, scourging and painful journey to the cross is taken from the four Gospels, with accompanying descriptions from Old Testament prophets.
Each Station of the Cross is followed by a short reflection, entitled “Jesus, Who Are You?” These reflections describe an aspect of Jesus’ identity—as the Word of God, Son of Mary, Prince of Peace, Good Shepherd and Bread of Life, for example.
There are also short prayers, entitled “Jesus, Show Me Your Face,” in which the author chooses one aspect of Jesus’ personality for the reader’s reflections. These include his humility, compassion, gentleness and innocence.
The aspects of Jesus’ personality are linked to Scripture—and for readers who want to know the Bible better, here is a chance to pick it up and read the actual passages.
A prayer called “Jesus, I Repent” is also repeated for each of the 14 stations. For example, in the first station, Jesus is condemned to death by Pilate, who washes his hands of Jesus.
The prayer picks up this theme: “Forgive me for the times I’ve washed my hands…and acted for personal gain.”
“Jesus, I Pray,” the closing prayer accompanying each station, takes the suffering that Jesus experienced and connects it to pain in the world today.
Thus, the reader prays at the second station, where Jesus accepts His cross, for people carrying the personal cross of suffering. This could include illness, the death of a loved one, the break down of a marriage or loss of a job.
At the third station, where Jesus falls the first time, readers are invited to pray for people struggling with addictions to drugs and alcohol.
Going to church and actually walking the Stations of the Cross with the community is a tried-and-true Lenten tradition. This tradition really gives one a deep sense of how great God’s love for us must be, given all that He suffered for us.
The power of Burrin’s book is that you may take it with you and “walk the stations” during your lunch hour at work, or in the evenings before going to sleep. It is another beautiful way to draw closer to the Lord.
We know that Christ’s journey to the cross did not end there, but led to the joy of Easter. And, very appropriately, the book ends on a hopeful note, with a litany in praise of Jesus’ Resurrection.
Lorraine V. Murray, the author of three books on spirituality, works in the Pitts Theology Library at Emory University. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.