Third Station, Jesus Falls the First Time, Good Friday, 4/18/03
Jesus falls for the first time. Itıs the first time, but not the LAST time that Jesus falls, walking his path to Calvary ---He always picks himself up and walks onward... He always gets up. Jesus falls ...but He gets back up.
This image of Christ walking, falling down, getting up and walking on with his cross is a terrific inspiration to me. Especially in my own human, fractured, imperfect life. Whenever I think Iım not enough, Iım not perfect enough, or worthy enough--- I remember Jesus falling but getting back up. Who am I to judge whether Iım worthy enough, after Jesus carried His cross for me. But I never quite understood this inclusiveness of ALL of us being worthy. Itıs not that I donıt think all of YOU are worthy, itıs me, myself, that Iıve struggled to accept as worthy. I donıt have any problem thinking Jesus died for YOUR sins, but could He have really died for mine.
Part of this is because Iıve been stuck on this ³old school² image of having to be perfect ...but part of it is also that with accepting worth, comes responsibility... if I accept my worth in Godıs eyes, I have to accept the responsibility He entrusts to me to live out His word as best as I can, to be the best person that I can be and to follow His path. But no where in that acceptance of responsibility does it say I have to be perfect...it says I just have to TRY the best I can, knowing that God is with me every step of the way.. just as God was with Jesus every step of the way.
As we are reminded by our faith community, this is a partnership with God. The reason Jesus could fall and find the strength to get back up is because He knew God was with Him. Jesus was not carrying the cross alone...He had God as His partner.
The concept of communal partnership has been fairly abstract to me, until I joined the community of St. Bartıs several years ago. Since that time, Iıve seen many concrete examples of people in partnership with each other. Iıve found in this community that I donıt have to be perfect. Iıve found in this community everyone is enough. And by realizing everyone is enough, Iıve also found community... something that eluded me for years and years.
Iım not a cradle to grave Catholic. Iım a cradle to college, then mid-40s (menopause) to grave Catholic. I left the Church in college for a life of adventure. Ironically that adventure led me right back to the Church, albeit 25 years later. In the mid 90s, still living in San Francisco, I returned to the Church. But it was not until moving down here to San Mateo in the late 90s and attending a mass at St. Bartıs that I began to think I might have found partners in a faith community.
Of course I didnıt know what partners in a faith community meant. When I left the church, the priests had all the responsibility and we did what we were told. Basically you showed up, dropped a dollar in the collection basket and left. But Vatican II changed all that and returned the Church to the founding tenets of community. We, the people, were to be responsible for our community of faith, under the guidance of our ministers. But I had missed that whole changeover to this new emphasis.
Of all the changes I have encountered in returning to todayıs Church, this dynamic of community is the most challenging. I am not only encouraged to actively participate in Church rituals, like Mass, but I am also expected to shoulder responsibility for the health and well being of my faith community. You are my partners. We do not stand alone here.
This has been a difficult path for me, largely because it makes me confront my fears, especially the fear of not being enough. Standing up in front of the congregation lectoring, or saying hello to the stranger in the pew next to me, has been strangely intimidating.
Iıve realized that while the Church of my youth was iconoclastic and emphasized our imperfectness, this imperfectness gave me an excuse to shrug off the demands of an engaged relationship with God. I kept God up there, above me, not here, in my embrace.
This past year, my new understanding of partnership and community was illustrated to me yet again. In an attempt to become more engaged with my faith, I tentatively got involved in various Church Ministries. During Eucharist Ministry training, Father explained that Mass could not be celebrated alone. He reminded us that Jesus had said, ³where two or more are gathered, do this in memory of me. ³ I was shocked, to see that community was defined as small as you and me. That challenged my sense of anonymity. However, bit by bit, my life moved forward, as I slowly gleaned how to have an adult, active participation in my faith community.
One day last year, I went to Mass for one of the Holy Days, expecting the regular retinue of participants... But because of the day and the time of the Mass, the crowd was sparse. Father was completely alone on the altar. He had to undertake all the ritual tasks normally shared by ³us²; carrying the book of the Gospels to the altar, reading both the Old and New Testament passages, reciting the daily Psalm with itıs responsorial, reading the prayers of the faithful, bringing out the gifts, in addition to his gospel reading and homily.
Finally having gotten accustomed to group ritual, I felt he looked so lonely up there! The altar seemed so exposed and empty. I kept wondering where the other ministers- the Lectors, the Eucharist Ministers, the Gift Bearers, the Singers, the Alter Servers? This was certainly not the Community of Mass as I had finally come to know it and it disturbed me. Where was the community? Why didnıt someone go help him?
Well, like ME, the community was in the pews. And, despite my current parish activities, I still didnıt have the courage to step forward and offer my assistance. I was still holding on to my feelings of inadequacy and the resistance to participate fully. I thought to myself, --- Iıll let Father handle my faith for me and letıs face it, Iım not enough.... There are others more qualified, more holy. I might make a mistake. Iım just too small a member of the community.
Then, as is most often the case with God, a small miracle occurred. It was one of those simple but defining moments of grace.
When the time came for communion, Father looked out at us, caught my eye and called me up to the altar to help him distribute the host. Now, since Ive been doing it longer, Iım used to this, but at that time I was terrified of being singled out.
In true human fashion, I resisted at first, asking Father if he really wanted me and looking around hoping he meant someone else. Fear was trying to have itıs way. But Father was insistent. After joining him on the altar, then standing next to him, administering the Holy Eucharist to the faithful, I was immensely grateful.
It wasnıt a big deal to anyone but me. To have felt totally unworthy, then guilty for that, only to be blessed by Godıs insistence that I take my unremarkable place in His community, was immensely gratifying. I had felt so insecure. But God helped me realized I was exactly what was needed at that time. A helping hand. So simple. It wasnıt about knowing more or being better or being holier than anyone else. It was about being enough. I realized that in Godıs eyes, I am enough, enough to participate, to help orchestrate, and to contribute to His worship. It was as simple as saying YES.
Fear paralyzes all of us into thinking we are not enough. Fear prevents us from acting because we think some one else is more qualified, smarter, better, simply MORE....We let others handle things because we underestimate our ability to step forward and contribute.
We are all on a path together. Yet along this path, each of us will be weak in our own unique ways. We will stumble and fall at different spots in the journey. At some point we will all need help, partners, and community. As we see later in the stations, Simon steps forward to help Jesus....Veronica wipes his face. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
The vast meaning of the words community and partnership continues to unfold for me. When fear threatens to stop you from asking for the bread of community, remember Jesus falling for the first time. Remember He was not alone, God was with Him. Remember God is with each and everyone one of us. Let that inspire you to say Yes.