STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Third Station — Jesus Falls For The First Time, by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin

Bernardin stations of the cross

From The Journey to Peace

Have pity on me, O God, for men trample
upon me;
all the day they press this attack against me. . . .
O Most High, when I begin to fear,
in you will I trust.
(Psalm 56:2, 3)

Faith is a Great Gift to be Lived

Saint Paul reminds us that faith is a great gift, a gift to be treasured but not a gift to be put away.  It is rather a gift that is to be lived, to be put into practice, if it is to be alive and effective.  This is the challenge we all face: How do we deepen our own faith so that we can put it into practice?  How do we live as examples of faith to others?  How do we best hear and respond to the call of God in our lives?

Jesus extends the call to each of us to follow him and hopes that we will respond.  But he reminds us that it will not always be easy.  At times we will feel that we are literally carrying a cross – that we are experiencing much of the same pain that Jesus did in his own life.  But somehow we know that it is all worth it.  The hope that Jesus offers not only strengthens our conviction but also deepens the faith we receive as a gift.

Almighty God, sometimes my burdens are too heavy
for me.  They bring me to my knees.  While this may
be interpreted as a sign of weakness, it also deepens
the faith that you have given me.  Thank you for
teaching me, even in my weakest moments.
Amen. 

Faith Gives Us Inner Strength

I was very humiliated.  It was total humiliation.  Last Friday morning, as I always do, early in the morning I was praying my rosary, and on Fridays we use the sorrowful mysteries.  The first mystery, as you so well know, is the agony in the garden.  And as I prayed that decade of the rosary, I said to the Lord, “In all my sixty-five years, this is the first time that I have really understood the pain and the agony you felt that night.”  And then I said, “Why did you let it happen?”  I never felt more alone.

Last Friday afternoon, just a week ago, at 1:00 p.m., I had to stand before the world and did feel very much alone.  Up to that point I had felt supported, but when I went into the conference room on the first floor of the Pastoral Center and saw some sixty or seventy media representatives, I did feel very much alone.  And the only thing I had going for me at that moment was my own forty-two years of ordained ministry, my name, my reputation.  But there was an inner strength.  And I am convinced that that inner strength was the strength the Lord had given me.

For me, it was a moment of grace.  A moment of pain, but also a moment of grace, because after that I began receiving the kind of support, the expressions of love, that I did not think were possible.  But it was also a moment of grace because, for me personally, it was a time of spiritual growth.  I have talked to many of you about my own spiritual journey, but I can assure you that I am entering into a new phase of that journey because of all that has happened during the past week.

God of compassion and mercy, help me to see your
grace at work even in moments of pain.  I know that
it is not easy, but with your assistance I believe that
pain and suffering will deepen me spiritually and
draw me closer to you.
Amen.

Do Not Despair, for God is Always with Us

When we are ill or no longer able to function as we used to, it is not only the physical pain or incapacity that affects us.  Our mind and our heart, our imagination and our will are also affected.  In 1987, on a pastoral visit to New Zealand, Pope John Paul II celebrated a communal anointing of the sick.  He told the people, “when pain dulls the mind and weighs down body and soul, God can seem far away; life can become a heavy burden.  We are tempted not to believe the Good News.”  We “may even be led to the verge of despair.”

The anointing of the sick reminds us of God’s plan for our salvation: how God allowed his own beloved son to suffer, die, and rise again so that we might be saved, so that we might be forever convinced of his enduring, unconditional love for each of us!  The death and resurrection of Jesus – the paschal mystery – is the triumph of life over death.

God, the source of all life, thank you for the
precious gift of life.  Help me to become free by not
clinging too tightly to my life.  When the burdens of
life become heavy and cause me to fall, help me to
get back up – even when the end of my life is near.
Amen. 

Our Suffering Brings Us Closer to Jesus

The U. S. pollster George Gallup has conducted several surveys on religion in America in recent years.  He reports that the vast majority of Americans consistently identify themselves as believers.  That appears to be good news!  But Gallup probes a bit deeper in his questions and has discovered some disturbing trends in many persons’ concept of religion.

While many say they believe in God, it is only belief in an affirming, loving God – not one who makes demands on us.  They pray, but the emphasis is on asking for things for themselves – not on praising God, thanking him for his blessings, or asking his forgiveness for their sins.  In other words, some believers want all the benefits and fruits of faith but none of its responsibilities or obligations.

That kind of “easy street” brand of religions is not what we encounter in Scripture.  For example, Exodus 20:1-17 is a solemn proclamation of the Ten Commandments – the way of life demanded from those who belong to God’s chosen people.  The commandments tell us both what not to do – do not kill, do not steal – and what we are to do – keep holy the Sabbath, honor your father and your mother.

If we are honest with ourselves, these are not unreasonable demands.  They protect the community from harmful, disruptive behavior.  They help each of us to live in a right relationship with everyone else so that we can enjoy the fruits of justice, harmony, and peace.  Moreover, the commandments are not really that difficult to observe, if we but make the effort – and help one another.  It has been shown over and over again that when parents live by the Ten Commandments, their children are also much more likely to do so – and their grandchildren as well.

Nevertheless, living the Christian religion goes deeper than observing the Ten Commandments.  And this is where faith becomes more difficult.  The church’s fundamental mission is to proclaim the Lord Jesus and his gospel.  And the Jesus we preach is Christ crucified, as Saint Paul points out. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)  This reminds us of something very important: It is impossible to embrace Jesus without embracing the cross as well. 

In an earlier verse in that same letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul reminds them – and us – that “the message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed for ruin, but to us who are experiencing salvation it is the power of God. (1Corinthians 1:18)

John also points to the cross (2:13-25).  In the dramatic episode of the cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus tells his critics that although they may put him to death, he will rise again on the third day.  And that is important for us to hear.  The cross is not the end of the road!  It is one significant moment on a pilgrimage that leads to resurrection and new life!

Saint Paul also tells us that the cross reveals God’s wisdom and power.  His power is a saving power, and his wisdom is a life-giving wisdom.  This means that the cross plays a special role in our own lives when we join our sufferings to those of Christ.  Jesus has opened his suffering to each of us and has also shared the suffering of all of us.  He invites us to pick up our cross daily as we follow him.  He calls us to unite ourselves with him in our suffering.  This is the great mystery, but the truth is that our suffering can bring us very close to Jesus.

Loving God, I have learned that it is not easy to
walk in faith with your son, Jesus.  Yes, I look forward
to the resurrection and new life, but, humanly
speaking, I would prefer to escape the cross, today
or any day of my life.  Help me, instead, to
embrace the cross!
Amen. 

Live in God’s Light

If you accept the Lord’s peace into your hearts, the darkness will not be able to overwhelm you.  There is nothing that you and God cannot face together.  God’s love revealed in Jesus is the most powerful force the universe will ever know.  All the heartbreak, misery, and suffering cannot overcome his love.  Reach for it!  Accept it into your heart!

Do not make a home for yourself in the darkness.  You have been created for the light if God’s love!  God’s greatest desire is for you to live in his light, to know his love, to experience his peace.  I urge you to open your minds and hearts to receive that gift today!

God of light, there is so much darkness in our world
and in my life at times.  Pull me out of the darkness
into your own wonderful light.  Whatever my
circumstances, allow me to stand in the circle of your
light and love – and share it with others.
Amen.

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