In the midst of this strangest Sacred Triduum, on what is certainly the most desolate Good Friday I, at least, have ever experienced, I found myself thinking about the Via Crucis, and in particular one specific station of the Cross: the seventh, “Jesus falls a second time.”
This station is unique in its not being unique. Every other station has something of the momentous about it, a real “event.” Even the other two collapses beneath the weight and toil of the Cross have that level of distinction that comes with being either first or last. This one isn’t primary or ultimate, but ordinate: It is ordinary, in a deep sense of the word. It’s the station with middle child syndrome: not eldest, not youngest, just “another of yours”?
The great Cardinal Ratzinger, in his reflections for the Vatican Way of the Cross in 2005 at the Colosseum, wrote about the significances of the tradition of the three-fold falling: how it recapitulates, first, the Fall in mankind: first Adam falling; then the Fall in the lives of all Adam’s offspring; then Christ’s mysterious sharing in the Fall by kenosis. He also mentioned the triad Saint John speaks of as consequences of the Fall: “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life.”
My own musings are more quotidian. I can’t help thinking of the current times, of Covid-19.
A Crisis Hard to Bear
One of the things that makes the present crisis hard to bear for many is how little it feels like a crisis. The word crisis comes from a Greek word meaning a point of decision, from the verb for “to decide.” This is where we get our sense of the meaning of “critical thinking.”
Although the words are not related etymologically, as far as I can tell, there is nevertheless a kind of cognitive resonance between “critical” and “crucial.” The former has to do with a point of decision; the latter comes ultimately from the literal point at which two lines cross, the crux. The Cross does, after all, represent a crisis in its own way: certainly in each of our lives, the decision to take up and bear our own crosses, to die to self and live only in Christ.
The Cross is a crisis, then . . . except when it isn’t. That second fall, neither the first nor the last, just part of the process, just another marker along the long way without anything unique or special about it. The current crisis and cross of coronavirus has that kind of feeling. It isn’t the stirring call to arms, the tug at the irascible part of us to abrupt and sudden courage to run into a burning building or fight an attacking animal. Even for those on the “front lines” who see more acutely the pain and distress of it all, the day-after-day nature of the thing suddenly blunts that acuteness and turns it obtuse.
The spiritual masters in our tradition have often contemplated this sort of thing: from reflections on white martyrdom versus red, to the long dark night of the soul, to the rules of monastic orders — it’s all over the place. Sometimes the Christian life and its spiritual warfare are less like the heat of pitched battle and more like hunkering in the foxhole — or even, sometimes, like the “hurry up and wait” of training exercises or filling out the paperwork before one even ever deploys to the front!
This, Too, He Sanctified
And here, I’ll come to my point, the crux of my own thoughts: this is one other theological significance to why we meditate on Jesus falling three times, and specifically why we recall Him falling that other time, the second time, the middle time, not the first, not the last.
This, too, He has suffered. This, too, He has sanctified. Not just the moments of spiritual crisis, the demand of the martyr to lay down his life once for all — but the daily demand to trudge along bearing the cross, knowing more of the same is to come; the demand to die to self, not once for all, but over and over again, by foregoing this or that comfort, by (in the most practical terms) staying home.
The wisdom and the mercy of God is in this: that Christ, in undergoing the extraordinary sufferings of the Cross, in the midst of it endured that “ordinary” moment too. He has entered right in through and all the way down the human condition, sanctifying not only the momentous, but the mundane. And thus we can find grace there, too.
Joseph Grabowski is the director of communications for the National Organization for Marriage.