Saturday, April 9, 2011

The 7th, 8th and 9th Stations of the Cross, with St. Alphonsus

We now turn our attention to the next three Stations, in which our Savior falls twice and meets the women of Jerusalem. We have already considered St. Alphonsus’ approach in general, his meditations on the first three Stations, and also on the second set of three. Hence, we now turn to the middle three Stations: The second fall, the encounter with the sorrowful women, and the third fall. 
In these Stations we see clearly the humanity of our Lord, insofar as he fell several times on his journey; but also we recognize that his divinity is presented to us as well, since he tells the women to weep not for him but for their children. How great indeed is the love of our Jesus, who in the midst of such terrible suffering directs us not so much to pity for himself, but rather to conversion of heart.
Let us take counsel from the lesson our Savior has delivered us on this Via Dolorosa. In the Passion of Christ we will find instruction in all the virtues. Inspired by the love of our Lord, we are filled with sorrow and we weep for our sins and for those of the whole world.

The 7th Station: Jesus falls the second time
Consider the second fall of Jesus under the cross—a fall which renews the pain of all the wounds of the head and members of our afflicted Lord.
In his characteristic brevity and simplicity, St. Alphonsus calls to mind the essence of the Station. Notice that the Teacher of Prayer does not dwell extensively on all the details of the Passion – rather, he is content to briefly mention the sufferings endured and to then pass immediately to the acts of love and sorrow. How different is this method of meditation from the Ignation method presented in the Spiritual Exercises!
My most gentle Jesus, how many times Thou hast pardoned me, and how many times have I fallen again, and begun again to offend Thee! Oh, by the merits of this new fall, give me the necessary helps to persevere in Thy grace until death. Grant that in all temptations which assail me I may always commend myself to Thee. I love Thee, Jesus, my love, with my whole heart; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.
We are not surprised to find the Saint offer a moralistic interpretation of the second fall: As our Savior fell many times physically, so we have fallen many times morally. Moreover, as is characteristic of Alphonsian spirituality, we are directed to implore the grace of final perseverance: “Give me the necessary helps to persevere in thy grace until death.”
St. Alphonsus is convinced that, as we consider the sorrowful passion which our Lord endured, we will be inspired to ask with the greatest confidence for the grace of heaven. But this grace – the grace of final perseverance – is not merely turning to the Lord at the last second, but includes also the many graces throughout our lives which maintain that fundamental relationship with the Lord. Final perseverance is more about living a good life than about a deathbed conversion. In this respect, the Doctor of Morals shows his eminent practicality.
The 8th Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
Consider that those women wept with compassion at seeing Jesus in so pitiable a state, streaming with blood, as He walked along. But Jesus said to them, "Weep not for Me but for your children."
As we consider the weeping women, we recognize in them the symbol of ourselves as we accompany Christ on his sorrowful journey. Looking upon the sufferings of our Savior, we cannot help but weep; but the Lord directs us, together with these women, to weep more on account of our sins (which he calls yourchildren”) which caused the Passion than for the reality of the Way of the Cross itself. Indeed, by this Holy Way, our Lord gained for us the remission of all sin – hence, it is a most blessed path.
My Jesus, laden with sorrows, I weep for the offenses that I have committed against Thee, because of the pains which they have deserved, and still more because of the displeasure which they have caused Thee, Who hast loved me so much. It is Thy love, more than the fear of hell, which causes me to weep for my sins. My Jesus, I love Thee more than myself; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.
St. Alphonsus directs us to make a perfect act of contrition: Weeping for our sins not merely because they ought to have gained for us eternal damnation, but even more because they have caused sorrow to him whom we ought to love above all else. The Saint does not speak of our love for God so much as an obligation, but as a response to his infinite love – on this account he directs us to invoke the Lord as “thee, who hast loved me so much.”
Far more than for fear of punishment – which is itself extremely great – we weep because we have offend the love of God, because we have rejected this love many times. The only response to such love is an act of perfect love in return. This St. Alphonsus begs of the Lord as he says, “Grant that I may love thee always; and then do with me what thou wilt.”
The 9th Station: Jesus falls the third time
Consider the third fall of Jesus Christ. His weakness was extreme, and the cruelty of His executioners excessive, who tried to hasten His steps when He had scarcely strength to move.
In his entirely unsentimental approach, St. Alphonsus imitates the Gospels which relate our Lord’s Passion in the simplest of terms. The Saint does not so much enter the scene through extensive use of his imagination, but simply states that Jesus’ “weakness was extreme, and the cruelty of his executioners excessive.”
Ah, my outraged Jesus, by the merits of the weakness Thou didst suffer in going to Calvary, give me strength sufficient to conquer all human respect and all my wicked passions, which have led me to despise Thy friendship. I love Thee, Jesus, my love, with my whole heart; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt.
Here St. Alphonsus directs us to immediately petition the Lord for graces. Rather than lingering in the construction of the biblical scene or even so much considering the love of the Lord which led him to undergo such suffering, we are moved to petition for the graces necessary to overcome all sins. Both external struggles (“all human respect”) and internal struggles (“all my wicked passions”) can be conquered through the grace merited by our Savior’s Passion.
Moreover, the Doctor recalls that we have a “friendship” with God, and this is something most important to recognize. In his own time, St. Alphonsus’ spirituality was characterized by his insistence that we humans must approach the Lord not simply as our Creator and Judge, but also as our true friend and father. Certainly, we must bow humbly before the divine majesty, but St. Alphonsus emphasized the necessity of “continual and familiar conversation with God.” In this regard, his work How to converse continually and familiarly with God is an excellent introduction to his particular spirituality.
Considering that our Savior has suffered so much in our behalf, and that he did not hesitate to take on our sinful flesh and come among us as a man, how could we remain far from him? No, indeed, the love of Christ compels us to enter into a most intimate relationship of friendship with the Lord. True prayer is characterized by this communion of hearts: Our heart united to his Most Sacred Heart.


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