The Third, Seventh and Ninth Stations: Jesus Falls Three Times

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By Sister Margaret Mary Quinlan

The ancient practice of the Stations of the Cross became widespread during the time of St. Francis of Assisi. Especially during Lent, the Stations assist people to reflect on the suffering of Jesus in order to find courage to face their own pain. Jesus is pictured as falling three times under the weight of his cross on the way to his execution. Each time he stands up and staggers on. Get up. Get up again. Go on.

Today, I am sitting in a spacious waiting room at Roswell Park, a cancer research center in Buffalo, New York. I am here not as a patient, but as a driver. Outpatients come and go. As I wait, it occurs to me that some are here for their first time; bewildered by the enormity of their illness, each face is a mask of anxiety. Get up. Go on.

The patient coming perhaps for the second time submits wearily to chemotherapy—hours of it, days of it, plastic bags of it hung above the chair. Tubes drip, monitors beep, soft-soled professional feet come and go. And beneath the weariness of it, the patient’s face harbors hope. Get up again.

A sallow patient returns for what will be her last round of treatment. More bags, more tubes, more silent inching of minutes into hours. Here, resignation has begun to accompany hope.  Though not clear, the awareness of a stark reality—I will not get well; I am going to die—calls forth a courage born only of grace. “I have fought the good fight; I have run the race; I have kept the faith…” Get up. Go on.

In some ways, as poignant as physical suffering is the pain of being sinned against by a friend or a husband or a daughter. The first time, one can gradually reach into the store of love and find the ability to forgive. The second time…?  The third? Or, when “the shoe is on the other foot,” where does a person get the courage to say, “I was wrong. Please forgive me?” Get up. Get up again. Go on.

Jesus’ courage on the way to Calvary reflects the fortitude of his whole life. He trusted the One whom he called Father. He encountered God in the long nights he spent in prayer. He experienced God’s grace in the people he knew: Mary, Joseph, Peter, the prostitutes, the taxmen, the blind and the lepers. He knew the power of God was in him even when God seemed absent as in the Sinai Desert, as in the Garden of Olives.

I will not see You
or hear You or feel You.
In that cold emptiness
when prayers are ashes
in my mouth,
hold my aching hand.
I now know what in those
bleak desperate days
I may forget:
You are my Love,
my Rock,
my God in whom I trust.

— Margaret Mary Quinlan, RSM —