Finding Jesus on a Campground

I am kneeling in a place of absolute peace. Soft music plays in the background, telling everyone of God’s unfailing love. The pungent smell of incense hangs in the air. The lighting in the room is dim, except for a solitary spotlight. This spotlight illuminates the monstrance, which contains Jesus Christ in the form of the Holy Eucharist. However, there is a sound present in the room that is not in keeping with the peaceful environment. This is the sound of muffled sobbing. I am among those who weep. We have just completed the Cross Walk, in which we were put in Jesus’ place through the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary: The Agony in the Garden, The Scourging at the Pillar, The Crowning with Thorns, The Carrying of the Cross, and The Crucifixion. Although I am kneeling in adoration of my God and Savior, I cannot help but weep at the thought of the pain and suffering He went through for me. However, my tears are not merely of sorrow, they are tears of mixed sorrow and joy. Joy for the renewed knowledge of Christ’s overwhelming love and mercy, and sorrow for the many ways in which I fail such a loving and merciful God. As I brush away a tear, I cannot help but think back on the events of the Cross Walk.

I had been hearing about the Cross Walk all week. People described it as “intense”, “life changing” and sometimes “scary”. I had gone back and forth all week, sometimes deciding I would go, sometimes thinking, “Maybe I’ll just wait till next year.” The time for debating was now past. People were lining up for the Cross Walk, and we had been told to get in line early, it would not go on all night. I could not talk this over with any of my friends. We were in Adoration, and I did not want to disturb their prayer. Instead, I decided to pray about it. Surely God could advise me better than any friend. As I knelt in prayer, I felt a peace coming over me, reassuring as a father’s tender embrace. Yes, I would go. I felt with absolute certainty that it was the right thing to do. This does not mean that I was any less nervous than I had been previously, but I was going.

After waiting in line for what seemed like ages, it was finally my turn. I was given a name tag, and was told that I could remove my shoes, which I did.  I was then blindfolded, and told to wait by the door. After a few moments, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and heard a few murmured words of prayer. I heard the door open, exposing me to the chilly, night air and eerie, haunting music. The hand which had perched so gently on my shoulder now shoved me violently into the chaos that awaited me.

As I stumbled blindly forward, I felt another pair of hands grip my shoulder as someone whispered, “You are Jesus of Nazareth, and you are about to be crucified.” My guide marched me forward into a jeering crowd. I was shoved back and forth between them as they shouted, “You are going to die, and no one cares! You call yourself the Messiah? Look at you! You are dying, and none of your people are here to save you!” I felt hands catch me as I tripped, only to shove me on to my next tormentor. Something cold and wet hit my cheek, causing me to shudder in revulsion. As I came to the end of the crowd, I felt the hands grip me again, and we rushed off to the next station.

The longer we walked, the fainter the noise from the crowd became, until it had faded to an indiscernible hum in the background. Just as I was beginning to have trouble keeping up with him, my guide came to an abrupt halt, and shoved me to my knees. For a few brief moments, the only thing I could hear was my own heavy breathing along with that of my guide. Just as I began to shift my legs in an attempt to dislodge the stick that was digging into my knee, my guide started pacing circles around me. He began to yell, telling me that my death would be pointless. “You are about to go through the most painful ordeal imaginable! No one cares! You die to save your people from their sins? They will not be grateful! They will continue to sin! They will choose to please themselves over you, even though they know what you went through to save them. Why don’t you just end this now! You know that with a word, you can save yourself from all of this pointless suffering! You deceive yourself when you imagine that your people will be thankful. Look at them now! They are thirsting for your blood as I speak! They do not love you.” As he paced, he would pause to shove me to the ground, wait as I struggled back to an upright position, and then shove me again. I could feel tiny, pointed sticks making countless cuts on my hands and knees. I knew that what he said was as applicable to me as it was to Jesus. I could end this with a word. I could reach up, remove the blindfold and say, “Enough!” Yet, I did not. The feeling that had come upon me while I prayed during Adoration was persistent. Although I was in no way enjoying the experience, I knew that it was God’s Will that I complete the Cross Walk. When my guide dragged me to my feet, I stood and allowed myself to be trundled off to the next station.

This journey was not as long as the previous one. After a few minutes, I was shoved against a hard, flat surface, and my hands were roughly pulled above my head. I had just realized that this station was meant to be the Scourging at the Pillar when I heard the whistle of a whip like object, followed by a sharp crack as it landed inches from my shoulder. I gasped and jerked away from the spot, only to feel the whip land near my other shoulder. Then the yelling began. “Why are you doing this? Do you think your people will love you for this? No! Instead of loving you, their Savior, they will love material objects like money and alcohol!  These people whom you hold so dear will place these material objects above you! Even when they know the things they do hurt you, they will not stop! These things will become their masters, not you!” Throughout this tirade, the whip continued to fall, sometimes missing me altogether, other times striking me, causing me to flinch and flatten myself against the wood. With every crack of the whip, I thought of an object that I had placed above Christ. Had I not just the other day chosen to sleep late rather than go to Mass? What about all the times I had read my book while my family prayed? Just when I thought I could no longer hold back my tears, the whipping ceased. My guide gripped my shoulders and we marched off to the third station.

This station was only a few steps away. When we stopped, a round, prickly object was placed on my head. “The Crown of Thorns”, I thought, as the barbed branches stung my scalp. “You think that your people respect you as their king?” my guide asked mockingly. “No! I tell you, they respect athletes more than you! If you were to ask a young boy who his role model was, he would not indicate you! Instead, he would pull out a baseball card, saying, ‘So-and so, the pitcher on my favorite team.’ Your people will not respect you. They will not love you. When they think of you, all they will think of is the one boring hour a week when they have to sit and listen to their priest drone on and on.” I thought of the many times I had dreaded going to Mass. Why did I prefer going to a concert over going to worship my Savior? Had I made gods out of mere musicians? Before I could ponder this question, I found myself trotting alongside my guide as we made our way to the next station.

The journey that followed was much longer than those preceding it. It was all I could do to keep from tripping over unseen obstacles along the way. When we finally came to a stop, I could hear nothing but the sound of my own heart pounding in my ears. As I stood attempting to catch my breath, I was surprised to feel a heavy weight descend upon my shoulders. As I staggered under the weight of the cross, I felt someone push it from behind. Slowly, I made my way forward, while the heavy wood bit into the skin on my collarbone, digging in deeper with every step. I jumped as my guide began yelling from behind me, “Why do you carry their burdens? They are not grateful! Instead, they continue to heap additional sins upon your already heavy load! They know what you went through for them! They know that you carry the burden of their sins. They do not care! They care more about their immediate pleasure than your suffering.” How many times had I knowingly sinned? I knew that Jesus had done this for me. Every time I talked about a friend behind their back, every time I told a lie to evade punishment, I was adding to His burden. Every time I sinned, I hurt my Lord!

Suddenly, the weight was lifted from my shoulders. My guide came and forced me to the ground. He laid me out on the cross, spreading my arms out and turning my hands palm upward. I felt a nail press against my right hand and the heavy blows of a hammer fall on the wood near my fingers. By this time, I couldn’t even hear my guide. My own thoughts overwhelmed all other sound. “My God did this for me! He didn’t have to! He could have stopped it as easily as I could take this blindfold off! He chose to die for me! And yet, every day, I consciously choose to hurt Him by sinning! I know that it hurts Him; I know that He did this for me, but in my selfishness, I do it anyway. And somehow, this amazing, merciful God still loves me! He forgives me over and over again, knowing that I will continue to sin! I am so unworthy of His love!” This went on over and over in my head as I felt the nail press into my other hand. As the hammer again began its heavy descent, I felt tears dampening the cloth binding my eyes. “Surly God cannot continue to love me; a creature who is not only beneath Him, but who repeatedly shuns His mercy and love by falling into the same sins over and over again! How can He love me? How can He continue to forgive me? I should be lower than dirt in His eyes! I am such an ungrateful child!”

Suddenly, the hammer blows ceased, and peace returned to my surroundings, if not to my mind. I felt a hand helping me up. When I stood, my guide removed my blindfold, and softly said, “Jesus loves you Sarah.” He gave me a hug, and silently led me back to adoration.

My tears have been dried, and I am perfectly at peace. The hopelessness has left me. I gaze at my Lord in adoration, knowing that I am unworthy of this amazing love. All I can do is struggle to resist the temptation to hurt my Lord through sin. I hear the doors open behind me as someone comes in from the Cross Walk. As she kneels behind me, I can hear her sniffling, trying to hold in the tears. I reach into my pocket and pull out a tissue. When I turn around, I can see that she is barely able to hold back her tears. I hold out the tissue with a smile. When she gratefully reaches out to take it, I squeeze her hand and say, “He still loves you.”

(© 2011 Sarah Formica)

Sarah Formica, 19 attends St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, and is majoring in Computer Information Science. She was homeschooled. This event took place at Catholic Familyland in Bloomingdale, OH.