“We’ve Fallen and We Can’t Get Up”

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt
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I’m sure you’ve seen the commercial. An elderly lady has fallen down the steps in her home, is seriously injured and unable to move to the telephone when she cries out, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” The commercial promotes Life Alert Emergency Response, a medical alert pendant that’s used to notify dispatchers about someone’s health emergency.

Although I haven’t yet had any personal experience with Life Alert, I’m sure it’s a fine product and a useful service that has assisted many individuals, perhaps even saved some lives. But it occurs to me that the phrase “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” serves well as a description of the human condition we need to confront during the Season of Lent.

It’s true – as a human family, and as individuals, we’ve indeed fallen, very far and in many ways, and a thoughtful, faith-filled person will quickly recognize that we need God’s help if we are to arise and walk again.

Our fallen nature is a result of sin: the original sin that we inherit from our first parents, Adam and Eve; the social sin for which we are all responsible in some way; and the very personal sin with which we struggle each day.

Think about the condition of the world. Daily we hear about terrorism and violence, kidnappings and persecution, the destruction of churches and the martyrdom of Christians, and the horror of political hostages being beheaded and burned alive. How far we have fallen; how deranged we’ve become! And you think we can rise above this morass through human devices alone – through military might, diplomatic intervention or political intrigue? I don’t think so!

Closer to home, even our own beloved country has suffered from the fallen nation syndrome. Sad to say, but we’ve drifted away from righteous paths and embraced fifty shades of immorality.

We’re a nation that promotes and pays for the death of unborn children in unrestricted abortion; we’ve legalized the abomination of same-sex marriage; we suffer the consequences of homelessness, addiction, human trafficking and pornography on a daily basis; we revel in the excesses of our secular, atheistic, and hedonistic culture. The words of the Lord should serve as a warning for us: “Shall I not punish them for these things; on a nation such as this shall I not take vengeance?” (Jer 5:9)

And sometimes in our own personal lives we encounter intractable problems that remind us of our weakness and need. Perhaps we’re dealing with a terminal illness, a parent with dementia, a bitter marriage problem, a son or daughter in trouble, concern about the ability to support our family, a legal problem, or a troublesome moral struggle that plagues our conscience. Almost everyone, at one time or another, reaches the point of discouragement and knows what it means to say, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

But . . . as bleak as these landscapes appear, we have hope because our faith comes to the rescue. We believe in a God who loves us, cares for us, and lifts us up. When we learn to empty ourselves of pretense and trust more in his power, with St. Paul we can conclude: “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Cor 12: 10)

One of the purposes of the Season of Lent, dear friends, is to recognize our own weakness and imperfection and to rely more on the strength and grace of Almighty God. All the traditional practices of Lent have that dependence as one of their goals.

In prayer, we place ourselves in the presence of God and we strive to recognize His power and providence in our daily lives. Personal, quiet prayer helps us to relax and relieves us of unreasonable personal expectations as we place ourselves in God’s loving hands. At the end of each day as we rest our head on the pillow it’s so comforting to say: “Lord, I’ve worked hard today, I’ve done my best; now the rest is up to you!”

In fasting, abstinence and other works of mortification, we suppress the desires of the flesh and we try to strengthen our spiritual lives. Like Jesus in the desert we do battle with the Evil One, we resist his tempting offers, and finally drive him away through our spiritual determination.

And in works of kindness and charity we acknowledge that we are part of a human family as we strive to be more aware of and responsive to the needs of our brothers and sisters. We recall that whatever good we do for others we do unto Jesus as well. And in assisting one another in charity we become truly grateful for the goodness and kindness that others have shown us.

Lent is a perfect time to reset our relationship with God, to acknowledge our weakness and need, and to renew our trust in God’s loving care, his providence, and his sovereignty in our life.

It is true, sadly, that because of sin we have fallen and we can’t get up, at least not by ourselves. But, lest you become discouraged or disillusioned, look to the Lord with confidence and remember the words of the popular hymn we sing so often: “He will raise you up on eagles’ wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.”