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February 20, 1999

The Way of the Cross

Last night I took a step into my past as I stood, genuflected and kneeled praying the stations of the cross along with about thirty other souls in a small Catholic Church in a farming community.

The frigid cold and darkness that I left behind as I opened the door of the church gave way to the warmth and light of the small gathering inside. The smell of incense filled my nostrils as I looked up to the gaze of numerous saints staring down from their pedestals.

The simple prayers penned by St. Alphonsus Ligouri differ very little from one station to the next giving the stations a mantra like quality. Full of recriminations about how my sins are responsible for the event of the death of Jesus is in almost every prayer.

During a period of silent meditation following the stations I could not help but wonder how these prayers that I had prayed on every Friday of Lent as a child had formed my 40-year-old mind.

I wondered how many of the prayers whose words I remembered so well had borne fruit in my life. It also struck me that something of what is missing in most modern worship was what was evident here.

First there is a focus on God. Everyone who gathered with me on this night was focused not on each other but on God. We all lamented that the way we treated one another was also an affront to God and it was God that we were ultimately betraying. But laden with the contrition expressed was adoration to this same God who was worth of all our love and praise who had expressed his care and love for us by becoming one of us and dying on the cross.

I have longed for most of my adult life to revisit the worship experiences of my youth that led me to embrace a deep faith. Most of that search has been in vain. But last night in a simplicity that most people would miss I recaptured that experience if for only a moment.

The prayer of St. Francis which many confuse with that of a song written by a Midwestern housewife earlier in this century was really the prayer that I genuflected to fourteen times last night. "We adore you Christ and we praise you because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world." That prayer will make you an instrument of his peace quicker than sitting in a small group and sharing how unhappy you are.

It is all a question of focus. If we focus on each other and ourselves the priority is all wrong and we end up trying to make messiahs out of each other. If our focus is on God we can see each other for what we are fellow pilgrims and fellow sinners.

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