I remember reading this passage by a spiritual writer who died in 1914: “Meditate on the Passion, no matter how unskilfully, how clumsily, virtue will come out from it to us, to heal and to strengthen.”
For a religious superior who returned so often to “right thinking about God” as key to an individual’s progress in prayer and the spiritual life, Mother Janet Erskine Stuart seemed to have taken an intellectual humility pill before writing what she did.
Was she up against fellow sisters who continually lamented their failure of imagination in meditating on the final days of Jesus? Were these women who despaired of matching in their personal prayer the stirring detail by which retreat directors had moved them to tears in their preaching about the sufferings of Jesus?
Mother Stuart would have understood what Pope Francis sent out on Twitter last week: “How beautiful it is to stand before the Crucifix, simply to be under the Lord's gaze, so full of love.”
For that matter, I understand it.
Raised – like the Pope – at a time when the Way of the Cross was a devotion that filled parish churches during Lent, I recall the language of the prayers attached to the fourteen scenes arranged along the walls of the church. Through that language I learned that my response to the sufferings of Jesus was something by which Jesus would be comforted. I learned, in other words, that a relationship already existed between this man of sufferings and myself and that the relationship mattered to him.
How does that relationship matter to me as a man in his early sixties?
I am looking for analogies, but I am not sure I will be entirely successful. I would have to understand things in my history better than I do to propose an analogy that will help my life with Jesus make sense in print.
It is Holy Week, however. I look forward to the services. I look forward to sitting with people who can meditate as clumsily as I.