Saturday, March 9, 2013

Meditation on the Fifth Station of the Cross: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross

We are now on the Fifth Station of the Way of the Cross. We have seen our Lord beaten literally to a bloody pulp, unjustly condemned to death and struggle to carry His Cross, the instrument chosen to be the means of man's salvation. We have seen Jesus' agony become deeper still as He met his Blessed Mother along the way and shared in her tremendous sorrow.

Jesus is now at a point where, as a result of the beating and scourgings and the great loss of blood, he no longer has the physical strength to carry His Cross. His Roman captors realized that he might even die before they can get him to Calvary and if Jesus was to have any chance of making it alive to Calvary, someone else must carry the heavy cross for Him. It would not even enter into the minds of the Roman soldiers to take the cross themselves. This was too far beneath them to help a loathsome, contemptible criminal. So they looked into the crowd and commandeered the first capable man they saw: Simone of Cyrene. The Gospels tell us very little about this account. The sum total of the narrative concerning Simon of Cyrene is given in the following verses:
Luke 23:26 - "When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus."

Mark 15:21 - "A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross."

Matthew 27:32 - "As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross."

These verses make it very clear that Simon of Cyrene most definitely did not volunteer to help our Lord carry his cross. He was "forced" to help Jesus, which tells us plainly that Simon resisted taking up Jesus' cross. Simon saw a man who had been beaten so badly he barely looked human. He was covered in his own blood with skin hanging from parts of his body and even bone showing in places, and the crowd was taunting and ridiculing him and crying out for his death. Simon did not want to be associated with this man in any way. As far as Simon knew, this criminal was only getting what he deserved, just like the other two who had been sentenced with him. After all, the Romans crucified only the worst criminals and the lowest of society such as rebellious foreigners, military enemies, violent criminals, robbers, and slaves. Why should he care what happened to this man and why should he be forced to help him and thus be associated with him in any way?

From St. Francis' Way of the Cross:
Simon of Cyrene was compelled to help Jesus carry His cross, and Jesus accepted his assistance. How willingly would He also permit you to carry the cross: He calls, but you hear Him not; He invites you, but you decline. What a reproach, to bear the cross reluctantly!
How often have we been guilty of the same thinking as Simon of Cyrene? How often have we looked down on the poor and disadvantaged of society, considering them loathsome creatures who have only gotten what they deserved? Here in New York City we have tens of thousands of homeless, and many of them are alcoholics, drug addicts, etc. who did more or less bring on their situation in life. And many of the homeless are also people just down on their luck, including families with children. I must admit I have far too often walked past the homeless without a second thought except maybe to think that they probably brought their misery upon themselves, so why should I feel sorry for them.

In the 20th Century, there was no one who gave more to the poor and rejected of this world than Blessed Mother Teresa. She would literally go into the garbage dumps of India where they lived (and died) and drag them out, clean them up and give them a clean place to stay. Often she would take the sick and dying out of the gutters just so they could have a dignified death. Venerable Fulton Sheen once said she ministered to 25,000 people and converted 15,000 of them. This, of course was before Bishop Sheen's death in 1979. Mother Teresa lived almost 20 years beyond that, to 1997, so we can be sure she helped many thousands of others beyond this.

Mother Teresa gave an interview to Don Gillespie of Keystone Magazine two years before her death. Don Gillespie asked her how she was able to do her work with the poor:
DG: Mother Teresa, thank you for meeting us today. You have an amazing ministry. Everyone has heard your story and about the work you do. The poverty and needs around you are so horrendous, how do you keep it up?
MT: It would not be easy without a life of prayer and a spirit of sacrifice. I see Jesus in each and everyone that we meet, no matter how repugnant they seem to us. Jesus presents himself to us under every disguise: the dying, the leper, the invalid, the orphan. It is our faith that makes our work easy, or at least more bearable. Without Jesus we could not do this work.
Simon of Cyrene was quite literally helping Jesus carry his cross, but each time we minister to one in need who cannot give back to us, Jesus sees it as ministering as directly to him as Simon of Cyrene did. Did Jesus really need Simon's help? Jesus was God, the great Creator of the Universe, more powerful than all of creation put together. But at this point Jesus was relying only on his humanity and feeling all of the weakness of that humanity. He was also surrounded by legions of angels who desperately wanted to minister to him and relieve him of his load. He rejected all of them and gave that special honor to Simon of Cyrene.

And truly it was an honor given to Simon of Cyrene to partake of the Lord's suffering, an honor that is given to us each time we suffer and join it with our Lord's suffering. And each and every time we help lift the load of someone else, we are doing it for our Lord, as Jesus told us in Matthew 25, the famous parable of the sheep and goats, picturing the time we will stand before the King and be judged based on how we treat others. In verse 40, Jesus said, "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' " and in verse 45, "whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."

One of the fascinating results of giving of ourselves to others, especially those who cannot give back, is that it transforms the giver even more than the recipient. Simon of Cyrene, forced against his will to assist Jesus, was profoundly changed by the experience. In Mark 15:21, we are told that Simon is the father of "Alexander and Rufus." Mark writes this with the assumption that the reader would be aware of whom he was writing. In Romans 16:13, St. Paul wrote: "Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine." We can't be 100% sure this was the same Rufus, son of Simon of Cyrene, but it is only logical that the Rufus mentioned in the Gospel of Mark would be the same Rufus mentioned in St. Paul's letter. It would seem that not only was Simon of Cyrene transformed by his contact with Jesus, this transformation extended to his family.

Another major lesson from this sixth station of the cross that has always stood out for me is that our enemies are often the ones who help us achieve eternal salvation. Jesus needed to get to Calvary in order to present himself as our Sacrifice on the Cross to the Father. But because of the savage beatings he had received, he was unable to carry his Cross. It was his executioners, the Romans, the same ones who had so brutally beaten him, who made it possible for Christ to continue on the journey to Calvary. The Romans certainly didn't force Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross out of compassion or empathy for the suffering of Jesus, but their cruelty was turned into the very means by which Jesus accomplished his goal. Often those who persecute us or cause trial and suffering in our lives are the very ones who are paving the way to heaven for us. As St. James wrote: "My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations; Knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience. And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing."  (James 1:2-4).

We will never find Christ in those who are acclaimed and applauded by this world. He will only be found in the lowly and humble. As Blessed Mother Teresa said, she saw Christ in the poor:
"In the Eucharist, I see Christ in the appearance of the bread. In the slums, I see Christ in the ... poor. Sometimes we meet Jesus rejected and covered in filth in the gutter. Sometimes we find Jesus stuffed into a drain, or moaning with pain from sores or rotting with gangrene, or even screaming from the agony of a broken back. The most distressing disguise calls for even more love from us."
"We can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by the society -- completely forgotten, completely left alone. That is the greatest poverty of the rich countries."
We have all been guilty of rejecting Christ and his Cross at some time in our lives. Let us learn the lesson of Simon of Cyrene and never reject Our Lord and the Cross again.
O Jesus! Whosoever does not take up his cross and follow Thee, is not worthy of Thee. Behold, I join Thee in the Way of Thy Cross; I will be Thy assistant, following Thy bloody footsteps, that I may come to Thee in eternal life. ------ Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!

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