A Reflection on the Seventh Station of the Cross
I would like to start with a reflection on this station written by St. Alphonsus Liguori:
“My most gentle Jesus, how many times You have forgiven me; and how many times I have fallen again and begun again to offend You! By the merits of this second fall, give me the grace to persevere in Your love until death. Grant, that in all temptations, I may always have recourse to You. I love You, Jesus, my Love with all my heart; I am sorry that I have offended You. Never let me offend You again. Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will.”
Everyone here loves God, right? And yet, we sin against God, against our family members, against our friends. And even after we have received forgiveness, we commit those same sins again.
There are two things to reflect on regarding our sins, in light of the Seventh Station:
One is the weight of sin. The seriousness of sin. Jesus underwent his Passion - the whips, the thorns, the cross, the nails, the humiliation - to redeem us for our sins. So that means that every ounce of pain he felt was a result of our sins. So when he fell the second time, he didn’t just experience the physical pain of the cross falling on him, or the wounds from his scourging hitting the ground, or his crown of thorns piercing deeper into his head; he felt the emotional pain of knowing that we would offend him again and again.
But we shouldn’t let that thought drive us into despair, just as Jesus did not remain on the ground when he fell. Because there is a flip side of that coin. Jesus took on the weight of our sins because he loves us. Each and every one of us. He would have undergone all that suffering for you even if you were the only human in the world. He died on the cross so that we could be forgiven for our sins. And just as Jesus stood back up and picked up his cross, so too can we walk right back to that confessional and have our sins forgiven again, even if it is the second time we’ve sinned in that way. Even if it is the hundredth! Jesus carried his cross - he carried the weight of our sins - to Calvary so that he could die there and redeem us. And even when the weight of our sins pushed him to the ground, he kept getting back up, determined to make it to the top of that hill. That is how much Jesus wants to forgive us.
There’s something else to reflect on here. Jesus didn’t just suffer and die for our sins. He also made it possible for each of us to participate in salvation. When he tells us to take up our crosses, he is inviting us to offer up our suffering and unite it to his. This is a beautiful way to give meaning to suffering. But it’s not always easy.
In 2015 and 2016, my wife and I had two miscarriages, five months apart. And as heartbreaking and devastating as the death of our daughter Lucy was, the death of our son Elliot five months later hit hard. I think I had eventually accepted the suffering that came with Lucy’s death, but then just assumed that if I prayed hard enough, I would never have to experience anything like it again. So when Elliot died, I was angry at God. It felt like he had betrayed me. What possible reason could God have had for allowing not just one, but two of our children to die before being born? Part of the enduring struggle in the months following Elliot’s death was that I didn’t really know how to offer my suffering up to Jesus. I knew that God only allows evil so that he can bring about a greater good. And the only way I could see to ease the pain my wife and I were feeling would be if we knew exactly how God was going to bring good from this tragedy. Then one day, I was talking to God, begging him to just tell me his plan. And he put a simple thought in my head: “Why do I need to know that?” At that moment, I accepted the fact that I wasn’t always going to get all the answers. I just needed to trust that God had a plan. It is only now, looking back on that moment, that I realized that was the moment I truly offered up my suffering to Jesus.
But I wouldn’t have been able to do that without a big push from God, and the prayers of dozens of friends and family members. I don’t suddenly become an expert in “offering it up.” I had heard for years that this was something Catholics should do, but I never really knew how to go about it. When some bit of suffering came my way, I never remembered in that moment to offer it up. It was only recently that I started to make progress in this area. Some of you are probably doing this already, and are much better at it than I am. But in case anyone is wondering how you get from knowing theoretically that we should offer up our sufferings, to actually doing it on a daily basis, I’ll conclude by sharing what has worked for me.
The trick, like a lot of things in our faith, is to start small, and work your way up. For me, it started with the prayers my wife and I prayed before bed. One of the things we started doing was listing the things from that day that we wanted to offer up to God. Things like tiredness, frustrations with the kids or at work, aches and pains. And we would offer those things to God for a specific intention. After we had been doing that for a few weeks, we started to become aware - first my wife, and later myself - of opportunities to offer things up as they were actually happening. Not only is this spiritually beneficial, but it radically affects the way you respond to difficulties.
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