By Seàn-Patrick Lovett
The tradition of the Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, being held at Rome’s Colosseum on Good Friday, is one that dates back to Pope Benedict XIV in the 18th century. It was revived by Pope Paul VI in 1964 and has been celebrated by successive Popes ever since.
The Pope’s Prayer
Meditations for the 14 Stations of the Cross were composed this year by a group of young people as part of preparations for the October Synod of Bishops. Themes ranged from migration to communicating Jesus on the internet. But the Way of the Cross in Rome traditionally concludes with a prayer, recited by the Pope and especially written for the occasion, often by the Holy Father himself. This year, Pope Francis chose to focus his prayer on three key words: “shame, repentance, and hope”.
We have multiple reason to feel shame, prayed Pope Francis: for choosing power and money over God, for preferring “worldliness instead of eternity”, for leaving young people “a world shattered by divisions and wars, a world devoured by selfishness where the young, the vulnerable, the sick, and the elderly are marginalized”. The Pope’s prayer called down shame upon all those “who let themselves be deceived by ambition and vain glory”, including some ministers of the Church. We feel shame, he said, “for losing a sense of shame”.
Our repentance, continued the Pope’s prayer, is tied to the certainty that only God can save us from evil, from our “hatred, selfishness, pride, greed, revenge, idolatry”. Only He can embrace us and restore us to our dignity as His children. “Repentance is born of our shame”, he prayed, “of the certainty that our hearts will always remain restless until they find in you, their only source of fulfilment and peace”. Repentance comes from “being aware of our smallness, our nothingness, our vanity” and allowing ourselves to be called to conversion.
Hope, on the other hand, “lights up the darkness of our despair”, because we know that the only measure of God’s love “is to love without measure”. Pope Francis prayed that the message of the Gospel may continue to inspire many people, “knowing that only good can defeat evil and wickedness, only forgiveness can overcome resentment and revenge, only a fraternal embrace can disperse the hostility and fear of the other”. This hope extends to the Church which, the Pope prayed, may continue to be “a model of unselfish generosity, a safe haven of salvation, and a source of certainty and truth – despite all attempts to discredit it”.
Grant us the grace
The Pope concluded each of the three reflections with a series of invocations to the Lord Jesus, to “grant us the grace to feel holy shame…holy repentance…and holy hope…always”.
Finally, Pope Francis asked the Son of God to help us “identify with the Good Thief, who looks at you with eyes full of shame, repentance and hope”, who abandons himself to God’s mercy and who, with honesty, “steals his way into Heaven!”
The Pope's Prayer
Lord Jesus, we turn to you, filled with shame, repentance and hope.
Before your supreme love, shame pervades us for leaving you alone to suffer for our sins:
shame for running away from trials, although we say thousands of times: "If everyone leaves you, I will never leave you";
shame for choosing Barabbas instead of you, power instead of you, appearance instead of you, the god of money instead of you, worldliness instead of eternity;
shame for challenging you with words and intentions, every time we face a problem, saying: "If you are the Messiah, save yourself and we will believe!";
shame for all those people, including some of your ministers, who let themselves be deceived by ambition and vain glory, forgetting their dignity and first love;
shame for our generation which is leaving young people a world shattered by divisions and wars; a world devoured by selfishness where the young, the vulnerable, the sick, and the elderly are marginalized;
shame for losing a sense of shame;
Lord Jesus, always grant us the grace to feel holy shame!
We look to you filled with repentance, begging for your mercy, before your eloquent silence:
repentance that springs from the certainty that only you can save us from evil, only you can heal us from our leprosy of hate, selfishness, pride, greed, revenge, idolatry; only you can embrace us and restore our dignity as your children, rejoicing for our return home, to life;
repentance that comes from being aware of our smallness, our nothingness, and our vanity, allowing ourselves to be caressed by your sweet and powerful invitation to convert;
the repentance of David who finds his only strength in you from the depths of his suffering;
repentance born of our shame, of the certainty that our heart will always remain restless until it finds you and in you, its only source of fulfilment and peace;
the repentance of Peter who, when his eyes met yours, wept bitterly for denying you.
Lord Jesus, always grant us the grace of holy repentance!
Before your Supreme Majesty, hope is born and lights up the darkness of our despair, because we know that the only measure of your love, is to love us without measure.
The hope that your message may continue, still today, to inspire many people, knowing that only good can defeat evil and wickedness, only forgiveness can overcome resentment and revenge, only a fraternal embrace can disperse the hostility and fear of the other.
The hope that your sacrifice may continue, still today, to emanate the fragrance of divine love that touches the hearts of all those who continue to consecrate their lives, becoming living examples of charity and free service, in a world devoured by the idea of quick profits and easy money.
The hope that missionaries may continue, still today, to challenge the slumbering consciousness of humanity, by risking their lives to serve you in the poor, the rejected, in immigrants, in those who are invisible, in the exploited, the hungry and in prisoners;
The hope that your Church, holy and a home for sinners, may continue, still today, despite all attempts to discredit it, to be a beacon that enlightens, encourages, uplifts and bears witness to your endless love for humanity; may it be a model of unselfish generosity, a safe haven of salvation, and a source of certainty and truth.
The hope that comes from knowing that your Cross, created by the greed and cowardice of hypocrites and Doctors of the Law, is the source of the Resurrection, which transforms the darkness of the tomb into the dawn brightness of the Sunday on which the sun never sets, and that teaches us that your love is our hope.
Lord Jesus, always grant us the grace of holy hope!
Son of Man, help us to strip ourselves of the arrogance of the unrepentant thief, of the short-sighted and the corrupt, of all those who see you as an opportunity to exploit, a convict to criticize, a loser to mock, another chance to put the blame on someone else, even God.