Like Christ, we are condemned to suffer and to die because of sin. He suffers willingly and innocently; we suffer, in the beginning at least, unwillingly and guilty.
If we suffer as unwilling criminals to the end, we will die a criminal’s death. If we learn to suffer willingly as Christ did, and take encouragement from His way, we will suffer and die as He did, with merit and victory, a redeeming death that brings life to ourselves and to others.
If the death of Christ is our victory and example, if His moment of ultimate defeat is our supreme triumph, then His falls, the moments of greatest discouragement on His holy way, should be our encouragement in the face of obstacles.
Christ did not have to fall on the way to Golgotha. He willed to fall in order to teach us. Some mystics number the falls of Christ at seven, each one a reparation for the seven capital vices. The traditional fourteen Stations of the Cross number his falls at three, and it is upon these three falls that I wish to devote this brief meditation.
Consider before we begin the parable of the sower. If we confront the place sin still has in many of our lives, it is easy to look at the parable of the sower and become discouraged, or even to despair. For some of us, we see how from the earliest years of our free choice, in spite of the grace of holy Baptism in our infancy, we have chosen against God. Surely we are the path on which the Word falls and is devoured at once.
Others see their pristine fervor diminished, perhaps after a significant life change or trauma, and have fallen into sinful habits. Are these not the rocky ground?
Still others see how they were led from the path by sinful companions, and have had the grace of God choked out of their souls by bad companions. How can these friends be anything but the thorns that choke the Word?
Few indeed are those souls who can look honestly at their own lives in Christ and find no reason to doubt that they are the good soil.
But the Way of the Cross is our way, as well, and the falls of Christ, if we let them image for us our spiritual stumblings and failures, illuminate this parable and impart unquenchable hope amidst the darkest moments of self-doubt and despair.
Christ falls the first time immediately after He has taken up His Cross. He has barely touched the wood or begun the long walk up the hill when He collapses under its weight. Many of us fall so soon after we commit to taking up our own crosses. Perhaps we fall into the same sin we have just confessed, or fail to persevere in a regimen of prayer just a week or two after we have begun. It is perhaps for us, when we are surprised by the weight of our new crosses, that Christ fell this first time. Christ, on His way to rise from the dead, rises from this initial fall. We, too, are invited to rise with Him once more and follow Him more earnestly, and more cannily, to our resurrection.
It is after this fall that Christ is afforded three comforts on the way to the Cross. First, He meets His Mother. While she is herself immediately our help and our refuge, she also depicts for us those whom we love that God has placed in our lives to help us bear our sufferings. And since Christ could not help Himself carry His Cross, Simon was compelled to carry the Cross with Jesus, so that we might know that crosses were not meant to be carried alone, and so that we would always seek the help of Christ Himself, who is to us as Simon was to Him.
Then, as he walks, Veronica removes her own veil and wipes the sweat and blood from His face. She unveiled a heart overflowing with love and compassion for Christ, and willing to give whatever she could to assist Him.
And yet, immediately after these three comforts and helps, Christ falls once more. How often do we set off eagerly and over-confidently after some moment of great consolation and religious enthusiasm, the seed apparently springing up at once, only to find ourselves so soon in perhaps a worse place than before, its roots not penetrating very deep? How often do we ask for and trust in the help of Christ, only to fall again? Lest we doubt that He does help us, or let our moments of encouragement become occasions for despair, Christ allowed Himself to fall at this point, so that He, rising once more from this fall, might invite all of those who have fallen in their moment of greatest consolation to rise with Him and once more to follow His way.
Finally, Christ meets the weeping women, who do not perceive that He carries this Cross for them. Seeing them, Jesus is saddened. Immediately He falls. But His resolve was not choked off by this pitiful sight. He rises again amidst the thorns and carries on. We too, though we are discouraged by those around us, who cannot understand our sufferings or lend us any aid, are invited to rise.
In the face of these consoling falls of Christ, who, then, is condemned in the parable?
No one but those who refuse to rise again with him, who let themselves become the barren path, the rocky ground, or surrounded by choking weeds.
Any sin can be forgiven except the sin against the Spirit; the sin that denies the power of God to forgive, to quicken, and to restore what has been lost. Christ rises from His falls, just as He rises from death, that we might have hope and faith enough to rise from ours.