MEDITATIONS AND PRAYERS
BY CARDINAL JOSEPH RATZINGER
The leitmotiv of the present Way of the Cross appears immediately, in the opening prayer, and again at the Fourteenth Station. It is found in the words spoken by Jesus on Palm Sunday, after entering Jerusalem, in reply to the question of some Greeks who sought to see him: “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). In this saying, the Lord compares the course of his whole earthly existence to that of a grain of wheat, which only by dying can produce fruit. He interprets his earthly life, his death and resurrection from the standpoint of the Most Holy Eucharist, which recapitulates his entire mystery. He had experienced his death as an act of self-oblation, an act of love, and his body was then transfigured in the new life of the Resurrection. He, the Incarnate Word, now becomes our food, food which leads to true life, life eternal. The Eternal Word – the power which creates life – comes down from heaven as the true manna, the bread bestowed upon man in faith and in sacrament. The Way of the Cross is thus a path leading to the heart of the Eucharistic mystery: popular piety and sacramental piety of the Church blend together and become one. The prayer of the Way of the Cross is a path leading to a deep spiritual communion with Jesus; lacking this, our sacramental communion would remain empty. The Way of the Cross is thus a “mystagogical” way.
This vision contrasts with a purely sentimental approach to the Way of the Cross. In the Eighth Station our Lord speaks of this danger to the women of Jerusalem who weep for him. Mere sentiment is never enough;** the Way of the Cross ought to be a school of faith, **the faith which by its very nature “works through love” (Gal 5:6). This is not to say that sentiment does not have its proper place. The Fathers considered heartlessness to be the primary vice of the pagans, and they appealed to the vision of Ezechiel, who announced to the People of Israel God’s promise to take away their hearts of stone and to give them hearts of flesh (cf. Ez 11:19). In the Way of the Cross we see a God who shares in human sufferings, a God whose love does not remain aloof and distant, but comes into our midst, even enduring death on a cross (cf. Phil 2:8). The God who shares our sufferings, the God who became man in order to bear our cross, wants to transform our hearts of stone; he invites us to share in the sufferings of others. He wants to give us a “heart of flesh” which will not remain stony before the suffering of others, but can be touched and led to the love which heals and restores. Here, once again, we return to the words of Jesus about the grain of wheat, which he himself laid down as the fundamental axiom of the Christian life: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25; cf. Mat 16:25; Mk 8:35; Lk 9:24 and 17:33: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it”). We also see more clearly the meaning of the words which, in the Synoptic Gospels, precede this summation of Christ’s message: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Jesus himself interpreted for us the meaning of the “Way of the Cross”; he taught us how to pray it and follow it: the Way of the Cross is the path of losing ourselves, the path of true love. On this path he has gone before us, on it he teaches us how to pray the Way of the Cross. Once again we come back to the grain of wheat, to the Most Holy Eucharist, in which the fruits of Christ’s death and Resurrection are continually made present in our midst. In the Eucharist Jesus walks at our side, as he did with the disciples of Emmaus, making himself ever anew a part of our history.