Lay down your stones…

One of the unique outdoor features of the Catholic Conference Center where I work is a life-size statuary of Calvary.  Jesus hangs on the cross, with Mary, John, and Nicodemus bowing before him.  When I went to visit the site in January, I noticed an addition to the scene:  a pile of stones.

They were the product of a Retrouvaille weekend.  The ministry helps troubled marriages before they end up in separation and divorce.  They have a phenomenal track record:  76% of a sample of 5,000 past participants are still married, and over 95% say they would recommend the program to others.

Bill Folsom and his wife were one of the team couples for this weekend.  He said while they were winding down their program Sunday afternoon, they shared with the participants what they saw when the couples arrived two days earlier.  “Skittish, polite but reserved, weary, a little fearful, some were angry… but all had their ‘out-in-public’ masks screwed on tight.”

He summed it up this way.  “They arrived with tremendous burdens.”

To alleviate their burdens, he created a new tradition.  “If the weekend helped your marriage or relationship, consider Matthew 11:28:  “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened.”  Look around, find a small rock somewhere on the grounds, even if just a small pebble from the path, and lay your rock – your burden – down at the foot of the cross.  Leave it with Jesus.  Go home refreshed.”

After their closing Mass, he said he got a lump in his throat when he saw several couples walking hand in hand toward the cross.

It’s a powerful image that prompted me to say a prayer for these couples.  It also makes me wonder.  What burdens am I carrying?  I can easily identify the pebbles in my path – my less than patient reaction to the daily ‘annoyances’ for instance.  There are also a few habits I’d like to eliminate.  Beyond that, I just finished an Ignatian retreat on the Spiritual Exercises and unearthed a few good-sized stones that have really been weighing me down.  Some of these go back to wounds of childhood, and others from not feeling truly forgiven for the sins of my past. 

After the retreat, I returned to the center and brought my own stone to cross (it was a big one), laid it down at the feet of Jesus, said a prayer before the cross, and walked away a little lighter from the healing and forgiveness that can only come from the Lord.  
I think it’s a beautiful image and a ritual (or some variation) that you might want to introduce into your Lenten reflections.  It starts with a simple question:  What stones do I need to lay at the foot of the cross?