The Sixth Station

Good art can usher in a sense of the holy that we’d be hard-pressed to find on our own. Stories we know well, characters we feel are tried and trite, moments that seem too familiar—art, in whatever form, breathes new life into all of it.

This image is of Veronica wiping the face of Christ. It apparently hangs in a parish in the UK by the name of St. Richard’s, crafted by an artist named David O’Connell. I’ll be quite honest—I came upon it in a Google search.

I was recently given the opportunity to reflect on a character from the Stations of the Cross in preparation for a talk I was giving at St. Bernadette parish in Severn, MD on CRS Rice Bowl and Lent. Speakers were asked to anchor their thoughts on a figure from the Stations in a way that would better illuminate the theme to be discussed. My theme was fasting, and how observing this pillar of Lent can give way to a spirituality of global solidarity. I like to use imagery in my presentations, and so after a bit of searching, I stumbled on this one.

The character of Veronica, for me, offers important insight. And this image is awesome.

Here’s why: So many of the depictions of the sixth station that I found presented Veronica on her knees, Jesus bending over her, offering consolation. That’s fine—perhaps that’s what happened. We have no way to know. (This station is found nowhere in the Bible.)

I picture her, though, as she is seen in this image. She stands on the same level as Jesus, she meets his eyes and he meets hers. There is a moment of intense intimacy, of empathy: two pilgrims on life’s path meeting in a moment of struggle, of sorrow. She reaches out to him, crossing a boundary of sorts. (I love how the cross seems to set up a barrier, splitting the image in two.) In fact, a soldier’s hand is on her shoulder, pulling her back, but she reaches out anyway.

This is the Veronica who inspires me: one who crosses borders, who throws her very body into the fray to offer a hand of comfort, of aid to the suffering Christ.

What does this have to do with Lent, with fasting or with global solidarity?

The person of Veronica—the entire sixth station—offers a very blunt answer to a question I’m sure we all have more frequently than we’d admit: why bother in the face of intense suffering? We see so much struggle and darkness and pain and death around the world; it’s overwhelming. What can possibly be done? It’s enough to make a person throw up their hands and give up.

That’s when we look to Veronica. After all, Jesus was on his way to die. He was beaten up, bloodied, dying. Why wipe his face? Why spend any time on him at all? He’s a lost cause. But Veronica still puts herself out there, risks her bodily safety to be present to the suffering Christ, to meet him, to make sure he knows he’s not been forgotten, that someone is there for him.

Is there value in that? I’ll offer it to you for reflection.

But what does this have to do with fasting? You may recall that in a much earlier post I noted that God has been very clear in what is expected of us in our fasting. Isaiah reminds us that our fast should result in the feeding of the hungry, the setting free of the oppressed, the caring of the afflicted and he goes on. So, then, our fasting shouldn’t be about us but about others—about removing those things that distract us from God and neighbor. Not for our own pleasure but for the good of those we encounter, those who suffer, struggle, hurt.

And of course, this quickly becomes a global challenge, as the Reign of God isn’t something that we build solely in our own backyard.

So, what does Veronica mean to us as we set our sights on Easter? What does this sixth station say to us as we go about the busyness of our lives? Again, I offer it to you for reflection.

Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services as part of the U.S. Church Engagement Division. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife and hedgehog.