Editorial by Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P.
During the season of Lent, a centerpiece of our Lenten devotion will be to pray the Stations of the Cross. The fourteen stations include the three falls of Jesus. What do the three falls mean?
The first fall
The first fall of Jesus on the way of the cross reminds us of the original Fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden. For the first man and woman, it is the fall of sin. And although Jesus was totally without sin, Saint Paul reminds us that God “made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus who, “though he was in the form of God,…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…. He humbled himself” (Phil 2:6-8).
Jesus falls because we are fallen. We see ourselves in him. The pity, the heartache we experience at the agonizing sight is the very way Jesus regards us in our fallenness. It is what compels him to get up and keep trudging to Golgotha. For there his death will save us from our sin.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church assures us that “after his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall” (410). Part of that “mysterious way” is Jesus himself physically falling on the way to Calvary in order to herald humanity’s coming restoration from the Fall at the Resurrection. Satan falls like lightning from the sky in defeat (Lk 10:18) because Jesus is willing to fall to the road in utter obedience to the Father.
The second fall
The second fall of Jesus is the fall of weakness. To be human is to be limited, to be fragile, to be powerless. We fall under a weight beyond our strength. But in this Jesus falls to show us how to be holy.
For our limitations are neither the meaning nor the measure of our life; rather, they point us to our meaning and measure. Our limitations make plain that the answer to what is lacking in our lives is not to be found in us. My limitation convinces me that I need more than what I am in order truly to be myself—to be “perfect.”
The tremendous advantage of our weaknesses and defects is that they move us to embrace dependence on others. We must go beyond ourselves to be ourselves. Jesus himself will accept the help of Simon the Cyrene in carrying his cross. “Christ intends no man ever to carry the cross alone” (Caryll Houselander).
The more a person is aware of his or her own limitation and incapacity, the more that person is able to open up to the ultimate Answer. Jesus woos us to that truth by this second fall on the way of the cross.
“Salvation” means an escape from our own inability, but it is possible only by my willingness to live in dependence on the one who wants to save me. “Two are better than one…. If the one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up” (Eccl 4:9-10).
So many in the Gospels fall at the feet of Jesus: Jairus, the woman with hemorrhages, Simon Peter, the healed leper, Mary the sister of Martha. All of them recognize that their happiness, their holiness consists in depending on this man who, from the moment he was a baby in a manger, has lived in dependence on others.
The third fall
And the third fall of Jesus is the fall of humiliation. We fall because we are fallen in sin; we fall because we are weak; and sometimes we are felled by the malice of others.
Christ collapses under the blows, the derision, the persecution the crowd rains down on him as he makes his way to Calvary. As Saint Paul counsels, “bear your share of hardship for the gospel” (2 Tm 1:8)…even if it means falling in apparent shame, rejection, disgrace, or being treated like a fool or a failure.
For this third fall is like the seed falling from the hand of the sower (Mt 13:1-30). It will at Easter reap a hundredfold harvest. It is like the “fall” that we also call “autumn”—what seems like the onset of death is in fact the remotest start of a brand new spring. The seed that is sown is the Word of God who now falls to the earth so that Life like no one has ever known before can begin. And only that Life can “keep you from stumbling and…present you unblemished and exultant, in the presence of [God’s] glory” (Jude 1:24).
Jesus loves most the very ones who cause him to fall, because they need his love the most. We imitate him in this, for “whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall” (1 Jn 2:10).
In the third fall, Jesus falls in love.