The fourth part of my personal credo may be the most important…
I am called to emulate Jesus…
I am reminded of the magnitude of that aspect of my belief most strongly on Palm Sunday as I prepare to share with millions of people around the world the final steps of Christ’s final journey.
Up until this point in his life, Jesus has taught us many good things that if we practice them and commit ourselves to them will unquestionably make the world we live in a better place for all creatures. He’s taught us about unconditional love, forgiveness, passion and compassion… The list is long and complete and bears much fruit if we choose to emulate him and the lessons he gives us.
Jesus teaches his final lesson, a lesson in suffering through his own crucifixion. As the Word Incarnate, Jesus had the choice not to do it. Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis presents this in a most faith-affirming way in his 1955 novel – adapted to film in 1988 by Martin Scorsese – The Last Temptation of Christ. Jesus could have walked away from his own painful death, but he had a final lesson to teach that Francis de Sales so eloquently summarizes in his Spiritual Letters.
God will either shield you from suffering or will give you the strength to bear it.
As we approach our first steps on the Via Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Way I offer these thoughts on suffering and failure that we have posted several times in past years. As you emulate Jesus and follow his steps, may you be encouraged always to rise and make the world a better place to be.
There is no disgrace in failure.
It is okay to fail, and it is good to recall your failures because when you do, you will remember the times you dropped to your knees and then found the strength and courage to stand back up.
I believe that Jesus is the word incarnate. He lived for me for one reason: to be an example of how to lead a good life.
Of the many lessons he taught, today I remember his failure, how he fell three times as he carried his cross to the top of a small hill just outside the walls of Jerusalem where he would be stripped, crucified and die. He taught me to stand back up.
English mystic Caryll Houselander describes his beautiful failure in her short narrative The Way of the Cross (1955).
“For the third and last time, Jesus falls under the cross!
“This is the worst fall of all… It shatters the last hope, the last remnant of faith…
“But he gets up!
“He gets up and goes on; He lays his hands on the wood of the cross for the last time, and without looking around begins the ascent to the summit of Calvary.
“The last fall is the worst of all. In it, [Jesus] identifies himself with those who fall again and again, and who get up again and again, and go on – those who even after the struggle of a lifetime fall when the end is in sight, those who in the last fall lose the respect of many of their fellow human beings, but who overcome their humiliation and shame… get up and go on…”
Throughout our lifetimes, we experience failure and we witness failure, we suffer and we witness suffering. We cannot deny it, and we cannot turn our backs on it and pretend it is not there.
Some of us have tried to ignore it, tried to pass ourselves off as living the perfect life and having the perfect family. It does not work. We fail, people around us fail, those we love, those we don’t even know, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Failure is a fact of life, but there is a positive side when it presents us with a life-changing opportunity: the choice to stay down or to stand back up.
I am reminded of a study done by the International Committee for the Study of Victimization. As Jim Collins explains it in his brilliant book Good to Great (2001)
“These studies looked at people who had suffered serious adversity… and survived. They found that people fell generally into three categories: those who were permanently dispirited by the event, those who got their life back to normal, and those who used the experience as a defining event that made them stronger.”
That is what the third fall teaches me: it is a defining moment that makes me stronger.
Divine inspiration is more common than most people recognize, understand and accept. I’ve often said that Dvořák was as divinely inspired when he wrote his New World Symphony as David was when he composed his psalms. I can say the same for many people including Sylvester Stallone when he speaks through Rocky. I believe Rocky explains the third fall in a contemporary way that excites everyone who has or will hear it, especially young people,
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth… you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you.”
from “Rocky Balboa” (2006)
There is no shame in failure. Learn from Jesus and those he uses to inspire you.
Stand back up!
Keep moving forward!