Last week we meditated on the fourth, fifth, and sixth Stations of the Cross. In each of those stations, Jesus had personal encounters with other individuals while in a vulnerable state. These showed us how intimate interactions between humans help us all on our own journeys. This week, we’ll look at the next four stations. While three of them involve Jesus alone, one illustrates yet another exchange with others.
Jesus Falls a Second Time
The first time Jesus fell, He was under the weight of His cross as He carried it towards the mountain. In this station, when Jesus falls the second time, Simon of Cyrene is carrying His cross for Him. It is not the weight of the cross that makes Him stumble, but the result of this seemingly never-ending painful journey. Jesus was already in terrible shape at the outset, having been scourged at the pillar, crowned with thorns, and burdened with His heavy wooden cross. At this point, He has lost even more blood, suffered more dehydration, and endured more lashings. Every little jagged stone must have been piercing into His bare feet. His weakened body cannot carry Him another step, so He falls for the second time. When He falls, the open wounds in His flesh hit the sharp rocks, causing Him unbearable pain. Perhaps the thorns in His crown dig in a little deeper. Here, in the comforts of our modern-day life, suffering like this is difficult to imagine. Yet this is exactly what He endured for you and for me, so that we could be with Him in Heaven. Each of those jagged rocks, each of those wounds, and each of those thorns represent our sins. Think about the sins you struggle with in your personal life. We are all different and have unique circumstances, but none of us are immune to sin. Place yourself in this scene where Jesus falls the second time and picture those rocks and thorns as your particular sins. Help Jesus by picking them out of His wounds and feeling repentant for having caused them. Use your repentance to replace those sins with flowers of virtue, so that He might have a softer place to land.
Jesus Speaks to the Holy Women
In the Gospel of Luke, we see Jesus interact with the women of Jerusalem who are weeping over His suffering. Unlike His previous three encounters with others, who offered Him some type of comfort, here Jesus offers them comfort. Jesus never thinks of Himself, but rather is always thinking about those for whom He suffers. He tells them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’” (Lk 23:28-29). Here, Jesus is telling them that this event is only the beginning of a landslide of suffering for all those who follow Him. Thus, they should be weeping for what is to come for them, rather than for Him, whose time on earth will end in glory very shortly. The Roman persecutions and revolts against the Christians came not long after Jesus’ Ascension. Christians suffered all kinds of horrors simply for being Christian. Jesus is telling the women that those who never have children will be the most blessed because they won’t have to watch them suffer and die, a reality that many others will have to endure. In this moment of selflessness, He is minimizing His own suffering out of compassion for what is to come to them. Beyond the relatively immediate aftermath against the early Christian movement, we can see how it has continued throughout the generations to our very own day. We suffer all sorts of persecutions, large and small, for being followers of Jesus Christ, and we fear for what our children will suffer in a world becoming much less tolerant of Christianity. Throughout this reflection series, we have been meditating on the suffering of Christ, but in this moment, let us accept His compassion for us, as He sees what we suffer for Him now, and pray for the strength and the perseverance to endure it.
Jesus Falls the Third Time
Jesus is not only fully divine, but also fully human. This divine being, in His frail and weak human body, has now fallen three times. This is a good opportunity to reflect on our own frail and weak humanity and realize that, if God falls three times, how many more times we will fall along our own journey. In the reflection on the seventh station, when Jesus fell the second time, we meditated on how each of the rocks and thorns were our sins burrowing deeper into Jesus’ raw flesh. Even now, we may feel deep remorse for the pain we cause Him with those sins. It can be very tempting for us to despair over our lack of self-control in overcoming our persistent sins. It was the divinity of Jesus that gave Him the power to continue to stand back up and keep moving forward. Therefore, His divine grace will give us the fortitude and perseverance we need to get back up and try again. Where do we get that empowering divine grace? – In the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we take our sins into the confessional with truly repentant hearts, God is more than happy to forgive us and pour His divine grace into our souls, strengthening us to get up and carry on anew. We may fall again and again, but so long as we turn to Him in confession, He will always help us up and with Him, we will eventually overcome what burdens us. Do not let Lent pass by without taking advantage of this sacrament. The more often you go, the better!
Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
By this point, as if Jesus had not already suffered enough humiliation, His enemies find a new level of cruelness. They strip Him naked, exposing His body for all to see. It is not as if He were in a private cell, or exclusive execution chamber. The same crowd that had been following Him from His mockery of a trial at Pontius Pilate’s praetorium, through the streets of Jerusalem, and on the road to Calvary – yelling, mocking, spitting – now watch as any last scrap of concealing garment is stripped from His body. They take every last possible shred of dignity from Him. It’s difficult to know what Jesus would have been feeling in this particular moment. Was He embarrassed and humiliated, or was He in too much pain and too exhausted to even care about this extra level of mockery? Regardless of how He felt about it, it was yet another act of love for you and for me as He endured it without complaint so that we could join Him in Heaven one day. His feelings in the moment were temporary, but the effects of it would be eternal and therefore worth every discomfort. Have you ever felt exposed or humiliated? Perhaps it was for a just reason, such as for a sin you committed, but perhaps it was unjust, due to some misperception or misunderstanding. We live in a culture today that relishes in exposing and humiliating others. If we follow Jesus’ example, it will lead us out of the temporary feelings and into the eternal reward. When we are mocked for being Catholic, or experience some other embarrassing situation or even greater humiliation, instead of complaining about it, we can choose to accept it and suffer it out of love. To be clear though, humiliation that is mentally or emotionally abusive is an attack against the dignity of the human person and should not be tolerated. Ultimately, we must always keep in mind our identity as beloved children of God, with the knowledge that the meek and the humble are promised the final triumph over their enemies. Pray for the grace to bear wrongs with meekness and humility.
Next week we will finish our journey on the Way of the Cross with the final four stations.