Father Vincent Sherlock is the Parish Priest of Kilmovee and Diocesan Communications Officer in the Diocese of Achonry. He has just published a booklet of reflections on The Stations of the Cross. He spoke to CatholicNews.ie about the inspiration for the booklet and what he hopes people will take from it.
Catholic News (CN): Where did the inspiration to put this booklet together come from?
Father Vincent Sherlock: It didn’t start off to be a booklet. During the Jubilee of Mercy, like all dioceses, we had a Holy Door in the Cathedral (Ballaghaderreen) here in the Diocese of Achonry and it was decided that on one weekend the diocese would have ’24 Hours for The Lord’ from Friday evening to Vigil Masses in all our parishes and that on the Sunday there would be a diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Door. All parishes were invited to attend. Stations had been set up in the Cathedral and a booklet prepared to assist people in making the pilgrimage. It was decided that the conclusion of the pilgrimage would include some reflection on the Way of The Cross and I was asked to lead these reflections. In 1999 I had published a book on the Stations called The Enchanted Way and it was suggested I might use that text.
As it transpired the gospel passage on the Sunday of the pilgrimage was the account of the woman caught in adultery and of her being dragged before Jesus with demands that she be stoned to death, in accordance with the Law. Jesus said “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone” and this led to all walking away except the woman. Jesus assured her he did not condemn her and added “go now and sin no more”.
I liked Pope Francis’ choice of title for the Jubilee of Mercy “The name of God is mercy” and thought that would be a fitting one line prayer of gratitude at the end of each reflection. I wondered about the woman in the gospel and how she must have felt, having experienced at first hand the essence of mercy. I imagined that her life would never be the same and that she surely became a follower of Jesus from that moment. It struck me that she may well have witnessed the “Way of The Cross” and I tried to imagine her at each Station.
That day, after Mass, I spent a few hours reflecting on what she might have said and how she might have reacted. That time led to the words that were the text I used in the Cathedral to conclude the pilgrimage.
Afterwards some people asked me for the text and I thought maybe there’s something here that could be used beyond the Cathedral and the diocese. I had some contact with Donal Neary, SJ, the editor of The Sacred Heart Messenger, so I sent the text to him. He liked it and said that Messenger Publishers would be interested in producing a booklet around the text.
CN: The Stations of the Cross are a much loved practice in the Church. Your reflections are quite contemporary – was it important for you that your reflections spoke to the reality of peoples’ lives today?
Father Vincent Sherlock: I am convinced the Stations of The Cross have a relevance for every age, ours included. I always think there is more to them than looking at moments from that week in history we now call “Holy Week”. Yes, their story is located there but every moment recalled in those stations is being lived over and over again in our world. Wrong judgements, falls, meetings between parents and children, helpers – both willing (Veronica) and unwilling (Simon) who walk into the stories of people’s lives, cruelty, misunderstanding, grief, uncertainty – all of these, and more, are captured in those fourteen images. I sometimes see the Stations as windows that allow us look into our own situations in life, or wonder about what others are experiencing.
For example, the Fourth Station, where Jesus meets his mother – in my opinion this is a station about family relationships and where there might be confusion or tension. I believe this station can be a launching pad for a parent or child to rebuild and refocus the bond between parent and child and to know that, even in the most awful situations, this is a bond that endures, heals and strengthens. Again, the Seventh Station, where Jesus falls the second time can be, I believe, a station for those battling addiction who know all too well the pain of the first fall and desperately seek to avoid the second. Veronica wiping the face of Jesus at the sixth station, is about a willingness to do the right thing by people.
So yes, the Stations have a tremendous potential and are an ally in and on our own “way”. I am convinced their value lies in acknowledging the historical and faith moments they represent but in going further through bringing them to the “now” of our journey.
CN: Who did you write this book for?
Father Vincent Sherlock: The pilgrimage happened to be on my father, Bill’s, fifth anniversary and in a way I’d like to think I wrote it his memory. Beyond that, it is for anyone kind enough to give the words and images a bit of time and open to using their own imagination to create stories around the stations.
The reflections take some liberties in terns of accuracy but are based on imagination and trying to look through the eyes of a woman who knew what it was to be accused and forgiven. So I’d like that whoever reads these pages, would be open to letting their own thoughts wander in prayer so that the images – the moments – from the Way of The Cross might speak to them afresh.
I’d like to think these “Stations of The Cross” are for a generation that has walked the Way of The Cross many times and in many forms but also for a new generation that maybe never had this as part of its regular prayer life. I’d love to think this booklet might introduce people to the great “window of opportunity” that is to be found in and through these images.
CN: Where do the Stations of the Cross visuals in your book come from?
Father Vincent Sherlock: The photographs in my booklet are of the Stations of The Cross by Harry Clarke in the College Chapel of Belvedare College in Dublin. They are amazing and I’m thankful to Belvedere College for allowing them to be used. I believe that Messenger Publications did a very good job of producing this booklet.
I’m grateful to the people who attended the pilgrimage in the Jubilee of Mercy and to those who mentioned afterwards that they had found the reflections helpful.
I hope people enjoy this booklet. I’d love to think they’d read the text and look at the Stations and, having done that, close the book and allow their imagination and Spirit to do the rest.
The Stations of the Cross booklet is available from Messenger Publications. Click here for more information.