Like most good things in life, this story starts with a gathering. Or rather, the decision to gather folks together. Like the ripples in a pond reshaping the land around it, the gifts we share can affect us and those around us. We had no way of knowing how this one gathering would transform our hearts or how those ripples would still be felt to this day.
“Steve, what do you think about us inviting people over for Stations of the Cross next Friday?” My husband, well-versed in all of my hare-brained ideas, looked up from his computer and waited, a slightly wary look creeping into his eyes.
“We’ll invite some families over, pray the Stations, share a simple meal, have wine, kids can play in the yard while the adults chat… it will be great!” His response, a blank stare. After a moment, he took a deep breath, let it out, and said, “Only you would think about inviting people over to celebrate death. Make sure you get it on the calendar BEFORE you invite people.”
I have a little secret to share with you, I am not a cradle Catholic, I am a Catholic by choice and discernment. I was called to join the Catholic Church while I was in college and looking back, I can see how that Fiat, that “yes” left such a remarkable mark on my life. I love learning about and experiencing and celebrating traditions that seem uniquely Catholic, and so many of our traditions seem to be especially inviting for gathering. After all, as humans, we are wired for connection and community (whether we like it or not) and a simple meal is an easy, low-stress way for people to share in each other.
When the dinner date rolled around, I started to doubt our decision on this particular gathering. You see, instead of just inviting other Catholic Families, who might have a vague idea of what it means when we say “Stations of the Cross,” we invited Catholic Families and families from other Faith traditions. We decided that if we were going to reflect on what Christ did for each and every one of us, we’d better make it a true Ecumenical gathering in the Name of Jesus to remember His sacrifice for all of Humanity!
When I converted to Catholicism in 2001, well before I met my husband, I never expected that one of the great joys in my life would be being able to share some of the wonderful traditions that our Faith offers with other people, especially non-Catholics. Growing up, I remember hearing how Catholics really weren’t Christian and that they were idol-worshippers, and cared more about their “traditions,” and didn’t really know Jesus, and all kinds of misconceptions. After seeking and finding solace and a home in the Catholic Church, I made it a point to keep learning and to help correct those misconceptions when I would experience them, whether it’s with non-Catholics or with fellow Catholics who may just have for years misunderstood their Faith. For me, sharing our Faith traditions with others is a way to not only help people understand what it means to be Catholic, but is also a way for me to share my love of, and for, Jesus with others.
Early on a Friday evening in March, a small group of families gathered in our backyard in Pasadena. There was the Baptist preacher and his family, the Evangelical Christian seminarian and his family, the Latter Day Saints family, the non-denominational family, and of course, a smattering of Catholic families, for emotional support. We set up the Stations of the Cross along the fence around our yard, and handed out 14 lit candles (one for every station) to the some of the kids, because, let’s admit it, candles make everything better and so much more fun. We began our remembrance in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, bathed in the gentle glow of the setting sun, as a hush settled over our group.
“During our time together, remembering the walk to Calvary, you will see some of us making gestures that may be unfamiliar to you,” I started, “Feel free to join in, or just observe. This time in prayer is a gift from our family to yours.”
The first Station was announced and you could hear the gentle laughter as our cross-bearer stumbled under the unfamiliar weight of the crucifix that my husband mounted on a tree limb as he attempted to genuflect. He steadfastly refused any help from his sisters, insisting that he could carry the Cross all on his own. Looking back, this sounds vaguely familiar to my own life and faith-journey… How often have I stumbled and refused to share the burden with friends, family, or even Jesus, steadfastly refusing any help with what ever cross I was carrying at that time?
As we experienced each station, the kids asked questions that many of us keep locked in the depths of our hearts: Why are they hurting Jesus? Why are the ladies crying? Why does Jesus keep falling? When we learned at the fifth Station that Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross, our son decided that maybe help from his sisters and friends wasn’t a bad idea. With every “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and verse of the Stabat Mater, we came closer and closer to Calvary, all without leaving Pasadena.
The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross. In the stillness of the twilight, a hodge-podge of families from differing faith backgrounds knelt together on the grass before an image of Jesus crucified. At this one snapshot in time, we were not Baptists, Evangelical Christians, Latter-Day Saints, or Catholics; we were humans, linked together through time and space, kneeling with Mother Mary, John, Mary of Magdala and Simon of Cyrene, as the Word Incarnate breathed his last.
As we shuffled to our feet, our shoulders were bowed with the burden of remembrance, recognition, and realization that Jesus’ sacrifice was for all of us and not just some of us. At that moment, the words of St. Paul rang as true now as when he first recorded them:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.”
Loving someone else requires taking chances and giving of yourself. It means offering parts of you that may be misunderstood, but you still want to give them to others because it’s of you.Standing together, in the glow of the lone remaining candle at the 14th Station, our family laid bare the love that we felt for our friends.
Our evening ended with the taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing of bread as a hodge-podge of families gathered together around folding tables, chairs, and more candles, to share in homemade soup, crusty bread, and wine. We reflected on what we experienced that night and what it meant to each of us. The kids played and laughed in the darkness until it was time to retire for the evening to go back to our realities.
Sharing the Stations of the Cross has now become a Lenten tradition for our family, and one that our friends look forward to participating in with us. The Baptist pastor and his wife have introduced Stations of the Cross to their church community as part of their Lenten offerings, and the meat-free mushroom and gouda soup has become a much-requested recipe from Stations of the Cross participants.
For our family, Lent is more than just prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is a time to come together as brothers and sisters in Christ as we prepare our hearts for His triumphant return. It’s also a time for our family to show our love for everyone in our lives.
And it all started with a gathering
Karianna Frey is a wife, mother, and Classical Educator based out of Pasadena California. Originally from the Midwest, she adores red lipstick, vintage style, champagne, and Jesus. You can find her on Instagram at @kariannafrey posting about faith and family, all in an effort to avoid the inescapable, yet sanctifying, chore of housework.