(an interview with Sr. Mary Leonora, FSP on the publication of her new imaginative Way of the Cross booklet)
Where did the idea for doing this book come from?
The idea was not originally a book. I had written these meditations for myself and would use them often because they helped me enter the mysteries of Christ’s suffering and death. One Lenten Friday, when I was to lead the Way of the Cross in community, I decided to share them with the sisters. Afterward, many sisters approached me and said that they should be printed. Thus the idea of a book was born.
The subtitle is: A Personal Encounter. Can you talk some about what this encounter was for you, and how it can become a personal encounter for others as well?
During one of my annual retreats, the director suggested I spend a day accompanying Jesus on the Way of the Cross. Ever since I was a child, I have been very devoted to the Passion of Christ, so I was really pleased with this suggestion. I asked the Lord to let me be truly present at the terrible events of his Passion, to journey with him, to gain some understanding of what it was like and to console him in his suffering. I knew this would not be easy for me if I tried to do it alone, so I asked his Mother Mary and one of my dearest saints and mentors, Mary Magdalene, to let me walk with them the Way of Calvary. It’s not always obvious in the booklet, but I leaned on them the entire way. As each Station unfolded before me—informed by the words of Scripture, the movements of my heart and the gift of my imagination—I was drawn progressively deeper into Christ’s love for the Father and for us. I began to understand better the horrible cost of sin and the preciousness of my own soul. My desire to love Christ more completely and to renounce sin, intensified with each Station. At the end of each Station I tried to capture some of what I had experienced by writing down the prayers contained in this booklet.
I am hoping the user of this booklet will be able to take the time to enter the scene of each Station, to be part of it, and have his/her own experience accompanying the Lord. That’s why I provided simple bullet points at the beginning of each Station, that these might spark the imagination of the user. I don’t want to paint the entire scene for them. Jesus will make each one aware of the details that are important for them and their own journey with the Lord.
This book is deeply entwined with and dependent upon imaginative prayer… can you give some examples from your own life when imaginative prayer has inspired you, or gotten you through a rough spot, or gave you new insights… anything personal about using the imagination in prayer?
I am of the firm belief that everything God has given us is a gift, and it’s been given us so that we might know him better, love him more deeply, serve him more generously in this life and be happy with him forever in eternal life. The imagination is one of these gifts. I use it especially when I’m praying with Scripture (sitting at the feet of Jesus Master, when he’s preaching; joining the disciples as they journey with Him; mingling with the crowd, letting myself be healed or touched by him; watching as he talks to the Father, etc. I do the same with many sections of the Old Testament).
Honestly, imaginative prayer has been part of my life ever since I can remember. I came from a very dysfunctional family and endured a lot of physical, psychological and other forms of abuse in my early years. After each episode I would go to Jesus, tell him everything and how much I hurt; then I would imagine he held me, loved me, said good things to me. We would sing Bible songs together until I felt better and I had the courage to face life again. I didn’t know at the time that I was practicing imaginative prayer, but that’s what it was!
In later years, when I was in therapy, the priest-therapist had me enter each traumatic event of my childhood, discovering where Jesus was in that event and what he was doing and encouraging me to engage in conversation with him. It was so healing! Thus, when I discovered the Ignatian form of imaginative prayer, I was a “natural.”
It’s important when using imaginative prayer to let the Spirit lead… Some years back, after my father died and my mother completely severed all communication with me, I was feeling very “orphaned.” One day I was praying with the Gospel account of the healing of the daughter of Jairus. I had decided to enter the scene as one of the relatives of Jairus, witnessing the power and the love of Jesus, but instead I found myself on the bed (in place of the little girl), close to death. I remember thinking, “Who will go to bring Jesus to me? I have no one.” And then (in my imaginative prayer) I fell into a comatose state. Just then a hand reached toward me and lifted me up. I was alive and well and looking into the eyes of the Lord! I asked him, “Who called you?” From behind him a woman said softly, “I did.” It was Mary, his mother. With that I understood that my heavenly mother Mary was indeed my mother, that she was concerned about me, loved me, and was taking care of me. I was not “orphaned.” My relationship with the Mother of God totally changed through that prayer. If I had insisted on being a relative or simply an observer in the story, it would never have happened. It’s so very important to let the Spirit take the lead.
What makes this Way of the Cross different from others? To whom will it appeal? Who did you have in mind as an audience when writing it?
I think it’s precisely the approach through the imagination that makes this Way of the Cross different from most others. I think it will appeal to anyone who has a good imagination and wants to use it to know Jesus better and to love him more deeply. It will also appeal to people who want to develop their imagination as a means of entering in relationship with the Lord. And it will certainly appeal to anyone who wants to accompany Jesus in his Passion and Death on the Cross.
As I mentioned, I originally wrote these stations for my own prayer. After the idea came to make them available to others as well, I edited them for a greater pubic—specifically for those who love Jesus or who want to grow in their love for him.
It seems this booklet would be help to people struggling with a lot of different issues? What do you imagine Jesus saying to those who have issues of addiction, abuse, pain of any sort, grief…?
I imagine him to be saying, “I love you. I know what you are going through, even if you don’t tell me. I know your grief, your pain and where it is coming from. See, I have taken it all upon myself, suffering all the loneliness and stigma of it, all the pain and rejection, all the suffering, humiliation and judgment, all the despair it brings. I have endured it all—just so you would know how important you are to me and how much I love you. I am suffering your pain so that you will have the strength to overcome it. You are not alone. I am with you. I am just waiting for you to recognize my presence; that would mean so much to me. If you turn to Me and trust me, I will teach you how to rise from this. I will lift you up. You are precious in my sight and I love you.”
There’s probably a lot more to unpack here. What’s the question I didn’t ask?
Perhaps the question is: Why pray the Way of the Cross? Answer: Because it’s the way of redemption and the way of love.
I would simply like to encourage readers to let Jesus speak to them through his Passion. The more we read the Passion narratives of the Gospel and pray the Way of the Cross, the more we discover the incredible love the Lord has for us, and we naturally desire to respond with love. We also understand better the gravity of sin—even our own personal sin, no matter how small—which was the cause of so much suffering. And yet Jesus embraces this suffering because he wants us with him forever. He doesn’t want to lose us. And he’s telling us that if we are worth this much to him (this whole horrific Passion!), then he will certainly give us every grace we need to live as he desires.
The Way of the Cross is a great help to grow spiritually and to obtain the strength we need to overcome sin and temptation.