Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Meditation on the Ninth Station of the Cross: Jesus Falls the Third Time

The Ninth Station of the Cross is the third fall of Jesus. If you have ever done the Stations of the Cross in a Catholic Church, you may have noticed that in comparing the stations in which Jesus falls - the third, seventh and ninth stations - you will see that each time our Lord falls, it is closer to the ground, so that by his third fall he is usually laying flat on the ground. Our Lord is physically and literally drained, having lost a good portion of his blood and also suffering from severe dehydration. He has no physical strength left. But as St. Paul wrote in II Corinthians 12:10:

For when I am weak, then I am strong.

And in the prior verse, verse 9, we are told:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

God cannot work with or through those who are "feeling their oats", who feel strong and independent. Our Lord gave us the example of what it means to be a servant of God. St. Paul told us in the book of Philippians that Christ emptied himself (Philippians 2:5-8):
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

No one in all of human history was stronger than Jesus when he struggled in physical weakness to walk the Road of Calvary and then hang helpless on the Cross.  It was through this act, done by a man so physically weak he could not stand up, that salvation came to the world. The smaller we make ourselves and the weaker we are, the closer to God we will be and the more He will work in us.  This lesson was taught by one of our greatest modern saints, St. Thérèse of Liseux, both a saint and a doctor of the church:
[U]nderstand that to love JESUS, to be His Victim of Love, the weaker one is, without desires, or strengths, the more apt one is for the operations of that consuming and transforming Love. . . let us love our littleness, love to feel nothing, then we shall be poor in spirit, and JESUS will come for us, far off as we are. He will transform us in love's flames.
If we are to walk in Christ's steps, we must become as dependent upon the Father as he was.  Self-help programs are anathema to the Christian.  There is no such thing in a Christian life as "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps."  In fact, in many ways there is no such thing as "self" in the Christian life.  Any time we start focusing on ourselves and our "abilities", we are excluding Christ.  It is when we are down on the ground and unable to stand up, as Christ was on the road of Calvary, that Our Lord can really work in us.

What was it really that made Christ so weak?  Certainly his physical weakness came from his multitude of physical wounds and loss of blood.  But this is what St. Francis tells us in his Way of the Cross:
Jesus, arriving exhausted at the foot of Calvary, falls for the third time to the ground. His love for us, however, is not diminished, not extinguished. What a fearfully oppressive burden our sins must be to cause Jesus to fall so often! Had He, however, not taken them upon Himself, they would have plunged us into the abyss of Hell.
The real cause of Christ's weakness was our sins which He had taken upon Himself, and that is the same cause of our own personal weakness. Sin has a way of deluding us into thinking that we are powerful and self sufficient, that we have no need of God in our lives. Too often, it is when we think we are the strongest that we are the most removed from our Creator. Sin "puffs up", it makes us think we are something we are not. As St. Francis wrote, if Christ had not taken our sins upon himself, we would have quite literally been plunged into hell.

In walking the road to Calvary with our Lord, we too will often find ourselves on the ground unable to help ourselves.  That is when we need to remember that this is a time when we can be strongest because the obstacles to the Holy Spirit are being removed from our lives.  When we are weakest, then we are strongest.
Most merciful Jesus, I return Thee infinite thanks for not permitting me to continue in sin and to fall, as I have so often deserved, into the depths of Hell. Enkindle in me an earnest desire of amendment; let me never again relapse, but vouchsafe me the grace to persevere in penance to the end of my life.

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