Presentation to connect “Stations of the Cross” to everyday life

The third image in the Stations of the Cross depicts Jesus Christ walking along a road with his heavy cross over his left shoulder, while people and soldiers yell and push him to move faster. Jesus then falls and prays, “God, help me remember that you are here.”

Like many of the images in the Stations of the Cross, a series of pictures representing Jesus’ Passion, the scene isn’t one that most people can directly apply to their day-to-day lives. But a presentation tonight from visiting speaker the Rev. James Neilson may change that, exploring how people can use the artistic images of the stations to develop a more intuitive understanding of their faith.

The lecture, “The Stations of the Cross: Halting Places to Ponder the Passion and Death of Christ,” is at 7:30 p.m. at the Chapel of the Holy Family in the Alumni Memorial Union and is co-sponsored by Gesu Parish and Campus Ministry. The man behind the idea to bring Neilson to Marquette is Timothy Johnston, assistant director for liturgical programs at Campus Ministry.

Neilson is an assistant professor of art at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., where Johnston was a novice in formation to become a member of the Canons Regular of Premontre, a Catholic religious order based in De Pere.

“He was a wonderful, outstanding person who was very energetic,” Johnston said.  “He had great insight with the aesthetic world and connection to religion.”

While Johnston was working as the director of the Office of Liturgy for the diocese of Salt Lake City, he had Neilson come and give a similar presentation. Johnston said Neilson’s approach to the Stations of the Cross is not typical to other discussions people may have heard about their meaning.

“This is not going to be a celebration of the Stations of the Cross, and we’re not going to be walking around,” Johnston said. “Father Neilson is going to take each station and reinterpret them using modern or classical symbols.”

The ultimate goal of the service is to help students gain a different perspective or vision of the Stations of the Cross and walk away thinking in a way they never have, said Margaret Horner, director of liturgy at Gesu Parish.

Horner said people in prior generations grew up with a more rigid point of view and application of the Stations of the Cross but sees the creative outlet as a positive.

“We did grow up with the very standard stations and this will be a new way to pray them and maybe go deeper into prayer and be a little more exciting,” Horner said. “It’s something new.”

Mike Heimbach, who is in charge of religious education at Gesu Parish, said Neilson’s presentation is a great collaboration between Gesu Parish and Marquette and will revitalize prayer during the Lenten season.

“It’s great to have these types of opportunities that we can brainstorm together and present it to the community at large,” Heimbach said. “This presentation is a way to see the sacredness in art. You can pray through art, it doesn’t have to be mundane. Art in so many ways opens up prayer and is a way for us to re-energize our prayer life.”