The Three Falls of Christ

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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.

Sean Connolly

Sean Connolly

Sean is a teacher of History, Latin, and Choir at the high school level and parish music director. He keeps his domestic church in ordered disarray with an equally beleaguered and altogether lovely lady and his little daughter.

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8 Responses

  1. ” … we are condemned to suffer and die because of sin…”

    This is why we need 21st century theologians – this is why religion is in decline.
    We are no more guilty than the young children who were slaughtered at Sandy
    Hook, CN ; we are no more guilty than a star that goes nova and destroys itself.

    1. With respect, what I actually wrote:

      “_Like Christ_, we are condemned to suffer and die because of sin.”

      And there is no 1st-, 2nd-, 3rd-, 4th-, 5th-, 6th-, 7th-, 8th-, 9th-, 10th-, 11th-, 12th-, 13th-, 14th-, 15th-, 16th-, 17th-, 18th-, 19th-, 20th-, or 21st-century theologian who would say that Christ was guilty.

      The suffering of the innocent is deeply tied to the suffering of the guilty, and you are right; I did not presume to write for an audience of pre-rational children, but for an adult audience with an experience of personal failure and of guilt.

      The suffering and death of those without personal sin is an entirely different problem but, like the suffering and death I have written about here, also deeply tied to the Passion of Christ, the innocent Man who dies the death of a guilty man.

      As for religion being in decline, I remain unconvinced that true religion was ever in ascendancy. It’s very difficult to tell how serious the mass conversions at the time of Constantine, Pepin, &c. really were; otherwise, as the state has moved away from Christ, public religiosity has gone with it.

      But an anti-scriptural, contrary-to-experience, presumptuous assertion of universal innocence is unlike to do anything but convince people that, as far as you’re concerned, Scripture is unreliable, they are just fine in your eyes, and therefore you have nothing to tell them. How this makes religion attractive, or anything but your eccentricty, is very unclear to me.

      1. With respect to what I actually omitted, Jesus allowed Himself to be our sacrifice – we are condemned to suffer and die because all organic life does just that – no exceptions. Even a diamond will break down over eons as the strong nuclear forces within give out. What we are taught scripture wise is that mythical characters from an allegory caused our suffering and death by disobedience. Jesus came down to show us the WAY and gave instructions on how we organic beings with free will avoid the opposite of everlasting life: ergo: everlasting death. All the world’s religious wisdom has the basic and subtle ingredients to this holy recipe but have failed to write it in one language, one binary code that human intellect can decipher – and that is the responsibility of the Catholic church.

      2. “With respect to what I actually omitted…” I like it. 🙂

        I think the best approach to your stated concerns is actually to be found in 13th-century theology:

        After all, when we consider that the Christian tradition has always believed that the personal, physical immortality of our first parents was a preternatural gift, I think we have to realize that the Christian tradition is very much at peace with the idea that death and decomposition are intrinsic to the nature of material things.

        It was of course entirely fitting for God to give bodily creatures in possessing an everlasting, immaterial nature physical immortality to match, but it was also contra-natural for Him to do so.

        The only people I know of who do not agree with this assessment of the Tradition are young-Earth Creationists; this is largely why they are led into such positions, because the idea of even animal mortality before the Fall scandalizes them.

        I have no aversion to recasting the doctrine of the Church in language less alienating and more accessible, but care must be taken not to lose essential content in the process. In the case of your above rehearsal of the mission of Christ, I’m not sure this hasn’t happened. Yes, Christ did come to show us the Way, but the Cross is more than instructive. It is objectively redemptive. I’m not sure that came across plainly in your account of the truth of Christ. Would you care to clarify your theology of the Cross, and of the Savior?

      3. ” …before the Fall …” I don’t believe in the Fall.

        ” but the Cross is more than instructive. It is objectively redemptive ” In Christianity this means with conditions.

        In Buddhism a promise to return over time until all were saved sounds more like a redemptive process instead of

        a one shot make or break offer. The method in allowing souls to learn and grow (or not) by experience dovetails

        the – correct interpretation of – the gospels John 9:1-5

        and 21 :21.as well as others.

      4. If God is not allowing souls to be saved in an ongoing process, then just what is He doing not vaporizing scumbags after their first offense? Just what is the Church’s presumption that everyone probably needs to receive sacramental absolution at least once a year all about?

        If you look at it right, the mercy of our longsuffering God is the cause of a great many of the ills of the world.

        It is also the way most souls who are blessed get that way.

      5. So I’m glad to see that we get many lives to work it out if it
        becomes necessary. Whew ! for a minute there I thought …

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