Numbers 21:4–9; Psalm 102:2–3, 16–18, 19–21; John 8:21–30
Today’s First Reading, with the sign of the bronze serpent lifted up to cure snakebitten Israelites in the desert, parallels Jesus’ statement in the Gospel that when he is “lifted up” on the cross all will recognize him and his mission from the Father. These passages put me in mind of the popular lenten devotion of the Way of the Cross.
In recent years the Holy Father has led the Way of the Cross during Holy Week at the Colosseum in Rome. This annual custom would have pleased the great Franciscan preacher Leonard of Port Maurice. In the eighteenth century he set up Stations of the Cross in 572 locations in various parts of Italy, including the Colosseum. Leonard was a popular missionary. These preachers would travel from place to place, preaching parish missions of a week or more, giving stirring sermons and hearing confessions. Leonard was one of the greatest.
Frustrated by illness in his dream to be a foreign missionary, he took up preaching throughout Italy and spent forty years in that ministry. Leonard mortified himself with severe penitential practices and prayer in solitude. His work bore great fruit—many conversions happened in the wake of his missions. He was also a writer and promoted the dogma of the Immaculate Conception before it was officially declared.
The Way of the Cross had long been a Catholic practice, beginning in the days when the faithful who could not go in person to the holy places associated with Jesus’ death could commemorate his walk to Calvary in their local churches. But it took a zealous promoter like Leonard to popularize the practice.
Make the Way of the Cross at your parish church sometime this week.
Jesus, lifted up on the cross, draw us to yourself.
As we sign ourselves with your cross, remind us that we belong to you.