I have seen many a devotional passage from Caryll Houslander, but this is the first book I’ve read by her. This was a perfect Lenten read with some of her characteristic insights and lovely prose. Houselander was a British Catholic artist, mystic, and writer during the first half of the twentieth century. In The Way of the Cross, she walks us through the Stations of the Cross, each chapter being one of the stations. At each station she puts you in the scene of Christ’s suffering, moves to some theological point, connects that station to our lives, and concludes with a prayer poem. In what stands for an introduction, titled Via Crucis, she walks you into a church where a group is praying the Stations.
Three o’clock on a grey afternoon. Outside, a steady drizzle of rain; inside the church, an odd motley of people.
A smartly dressed woman, side by side with one who is shabby and threadbare. A boy and girl who appear to be in love. A very old man, so bowed that he is permanently in an attitude of adoration. A stalwart young soldier whose polished buttons glitter like gems in the candlelight. A couple of students, shabbily but elegantly dressed in corduroys and bright scarves, rubbing shoulders with a gaunt, round-shouldered man who looks like a tramp. A sprinkle of small children. And behind them all, as if he felt himself to be the modern Publican, though there is no reason why he should, a thickset, square-shouldered business man. And a few seconds before the priest, in come a couple of rather flustered little nuns, like birds shaking the rain off their black feathers.
What a diversity of places these people must have come from—luxury flats, tenements, small boardinghouses, institutions, barracks, studios, colleges, doss houses, schools, offices, convents. What sharp contrast there must be between their different lives and circumstances! But they seem to be strangely at one here, gathered round a crude coloured picture on the wall of the church, “The First Station of the Cross,” and it seems to come naturally to them to join together in the same prayer:
“We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee.”
“Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.”
The tender rhythmic prayer that has been on the lips of men all through the ages is repeated fourteen times as they move slowly around the church, following the priest from station to station, until they reach the last of all, “Jesus Laid in the Tomb.” (pp. 1-2)
All quotes taken from the 2015 reprint edition by Angelico Press, which is a republication of the original work published by Sheed and Ward, Inc., 1955.
Houselander goes on to explain what the Stations are and their significance, but she ultimately comes to connect them in us:
Different though each human being is from every other, uniquely his own though each one’s experience is, there are certain inevitable experiences which are common to all men and from which none can escape. One of these is death. Another is love. Every human being alive is on the road to death. Every one is capable of love for someone, even if it is only for himself, and the price of love, perhaps particularly of self-love, is suffering. But the power of love, and this does not apply to self-love, is to transform suffering, to heal its inevitable wounds.
Now it is easier to understand what it is that brings the incongruous motley of people together to “make the Way of the Cross.” Each one meets himself on the Via Crucis, which is the road through death to life. In Christ he finds the meaning of his own suffering, the power of his own capacity for love. He finds the explanation of himself in Our Lady too, the Mother of Christ in whose soul He is formed perfectly, as He was once formed perfectly in her body. And in those others too, who are taking part in the Passion of the Son of Man—Simon of Cyrene, Magdalen and John, Veronica, the Women of Jerusalem, the Good Thief, the Centurion, the man who lent his tomb, the scattered apostles who crept back, and ran to the empty tomb on the morning of resurrection. Those in whom, through grace and mercy, Christ is being formed, and growing from the darkness of the buried seed to His full flowering. (pp. 4-5)
I’m going to try to give you a sample on each Friday coming up to Easter from a particular station. During Lent I try to pray the Stations every night, with a success rate of two out of three nights. I encourage everyone to pray them, even if it’s occasional. I probably get the most spiritual uplift from praying the Stations than from any other single prayer or devotional. If you don’t know how to pray them, you can read about it here. If it’s easier to do it in community, I’m sure your local Catholic Church prays them frequently during Lent, but there are many youtube clips to pray along to. They tend to be filled with meditations that you want to simplify. It doesn’t need take more than fifteen minutes. Here is one.