As we celebrate the Easter Season, I’m reposting a piece I wrote back in 2004 on the “Stations of Light.” This is a wonderful practice for helping us focus on the joy of the Easter season as intently as we focus on the repentance of the Lenten season.
Via Crucis, Via Lucis
by Rose Marie Berger
It’s an old Latin adage. “Via Crucis, Via Lucis.” Can you see the abuelita, the old grandmother, shrugging her shoulders and patting her teenage grandson on the cheek? Where there’s the cross, there’s also light.
A few years ago Pope John Paul II decided to officially resurrect an ancient Christian custom called the Via Lucis – the Way of Light. It’s a devotional practice similar to the Stations of the Cross, but it focuses on the Easter appearances. It’s also called the Stations of the Resurrection or the Stations of Joy. Well suited for the 50 days of the Easter season prior to Pentecost, the Via Lucis scriptures reflect on the final chapters of the four gospels, which narrate the resurrection appearances. There are 14 “stations of light.”
We are all familiar with the cross and what it symbolizes. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ serves as a bloody reminder about this form of state-sponsored torture. Many Christians symbolically “carry the cross of Christ” through the season of Lent, maybe through fasting or almsgiving or saying extra prayers. Maybe by figuring out how to get right with an estranged family member. Maybe by practicing a “rigorous moral inventory.” Often the penitential purple shows up in our churches.
If I’m honest with myself, I’d say that most of the year feels like Lent. The daily headlines read like Christ’s crucifixion. There are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, lying “public servants,” CEOs stealing billions, too many kids “left behind,” gangs so crazed by anger that they opt to become suicide-bombers. Add in your own. To put it simply, all this hurts Jesus. All this is another blow of the hammer nailing Jesus to the cross.
But what does the Via Lucis feel like? Where do I find and celebrate the Way of Light? In my neighborhood it includes the community gardens where grandmothers from rural North Carolina teach their tough urban grandkids how to plant tomatoes. It includes the pick-up soccer games in the park where “enemies” play together on the same team. It involves the Salvadoran priest, a torture survivor, who is raising money to plant flowers in a park that’s a home for the homeless. My Via Lucis even stops in Foz Do Iguacu, Brazil. When CNN falsely accused the town of harboring “terrorist cells,” the mayor fought back with humor by placing ads in more than 160 travel magazines that said, “If he can find the time to see our waterfalls, why can’t you?” under a photo of bin Laden. My Way of Light would also pause at the World Trade Center where a friend planted corn seeds in the ash-seeds given to her by survivors of the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador. A year later she returned to Ground Zero to find an 8-foot corn plant growing in Manhattan.
To enter Easter and the qualities of light, I need reminders that Jesus was not “cured of death,” as theologian James Alison puts it. That’s what happened to Lazarus. Instead, Jesus kept fidelity with life.
His Via Lucis includes an empty tomb, honoring Mary Magdalene, teaching on the way to Emmaus, breaking bread, breathing peace on the disciples, forgiving them, engaging Thomas’ questions, teaching Peter about love, teaching the disciples how to continue in The Way, overcoming the powers and principalities by ascending to heaven, and encouraging the followers to wait and watch for the Holy Spirit.
“Via Crucis, Via Lucis.” Where there’s the cross, there’s also light. It may not be easy to wear light on a chain around the neck, but then again, as people of the resurrection, we don’t need to. I pray that it will be obvious to all who see us that we are people of joy. We walk in illumination. Where we pass, our footprints puddle with light.
How will you practice the Via Lucis?
Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor of Sojourners, is a Catholic peace activist and poet. This article first appeared in SojoMail, 4-14-2004.