June 27, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Get up, look up and carry on because of Jesus

(Third in a series)

Were you there when he fell upon the ground?”

The Third Station on the Way of the Cross marks the first time that Jesus fell under the weight of the cross.

It is no surprise that after a night of brutal scourging and crowning with thorns the loss of blood would have so weakened Jesus to the point of physical collapse. He could hardly have had physical control under the heavy weight of the wooden cross. Jesus meets his physical limit early on the way to Calvary.

Falling to the ground must have been an added humiliation for Jesus, who was a fairly young man in his prime. It is useful to think of the very human dimension of Christ’s Passion because our imagination helps us realize more vividly how much love he had for us.

It is important to make the connection to the suffering of Jesus personally because we are included as the beneficiaries of his loving sacrifice.

Our faith is not simply a theoretical idea or mere speculation about our Redeemer. Our faith is a personal commitment in a relationship of love and friendship with Jesus.

We believe in the person of Jesus and what he did; in other words, faith is not just an idea. Salvation is not just something generic. It is personal.

We can look at what happened on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago as a real-life demonstration about how to cope with seeming failure in living up to our expectations as followers of Jesus. The fall of Jesus has a profound spiritual meaning because a sense of spiritual failure can become a temptation against hope.

When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States last April, he came bearing the simple message, “Christ our Hope.”

Repeatedly, the Holy Father addressed the need for hope in our culture, and he pointed to Christ as the source of our hope.

Perhaps in times of discouragement, it is helpful to remember that on the way to winning our redemption from sin and death on the Cross on Calvary, the decisive foundation of our hope, Jesus fell upon the ground. He fell, but he got up and completed the act of our redemption. Even in his apparent failure and weakness, he offered us a witness of perseverance and endurance.

I think it was in the summer of 2007 that I happened onto the annual televised induction of new members into the National Football League’s Hall of Fame. In particular, I tuned in just as Michael Irvin of the Dallas Cowboys was acknowledging his reception of the honor.

In the course of his remarks, he admitted that he had not always been the husband and dad he should have been. He apologized to his wife. And then he invited his two young sons to stand as he exhorted them, saying he hoped they would be better husbands and fathers than he had been. And he told them, “If you fall, get up, look up and don’t give up.” For emphasis, he repeated it.

It is easy to give his admonition a spiritual application. Failure, sin, can lead to giving up in discouragement.

On the one hand, there may be the complicating hazard of indifference. On the other hand, a false sense of perfectionism can be equally misleading.

Even for great saints, becoming holy, leading a good life, often meant being willing to get up and start over again. The real spiritual failure is to give up and quit trying to become holy.

We can become spiritually and morally lukewarm if we become indifferent to the lesser sins, if we become comfortable with the “small” sins or faults.

Becoming comfortable with venial sins can become a setup for grave sins; the habit of serious sin does not happen suddenly. Getting up, looking up and not giving up is based on faith in God’s mercy and the help of his grace.

We are saved by God’s grace, not by our actions alone. Perfectionism is based on the fallacy that salvation depends on our initiative alone. Practically, it tends to push God out of the picture. In fact, this state can be one that is lacking in faith, at least practically speaking.

The challenge that we face when we fall is to believe deep down that goodness is more powerful than evil.

We are created in God’s image and in baptism we are united with Christ. Sin can not only cause a rupture in our relationship with Christ. Worse still, it can eclipse our belief in God’s mercy, which was won for us so poignantly in the Passion of Christ.

We can get up, we can look up and we can carry on because of Jesus. He fell upon the ground, but he got up and went on to Calvary. †

Local site Links: