As I was praying the Stations of the Cross today, Good Friday, I lingered at the Fifth Station (Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross). Simon didn’t want to help Jesus – St. Matthew tells us Simon was “pressed into service” by the soldiers (Mt 27:32) and St. Luke tells us they “seized” Simon and made him carry the Cross (Lk 23:26). And I can’t help but sympathize with him – who wants to carry a cross? Let alone on behalf of a condemned criminal?
There is something about our human nature that is repulsed by the thought of the cross. I know Jesus tells me to pick up my cross and follow after Him – I know He has said that those who don’t pick up their crosses are not worthy of Him – but part of me reflexively cringes at the thought. What if it crushes me? How can a good and loving God want this for me?
John Paul the Great’s Insights on the Cross
Blessed John Paul II, in one of his reflections on Good Friday, tells us that a proper understanding of the Cross requires a complete change of perspective. The Cross is first and foremost a gift from Jesus. It is a gift because it bestows on us the dignity of being participants in the work of salvation (both our own and others’). In the words of St. Augustine, “He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent.” We must give our “yes” to Jesus, which means giving our “yes” to both the good and the bad, to the joy and the pain, and to everything that His Providence allows.
JPII also notes that St. Mark identifies the sons of Simon of Cyrene as members of the early Christian community (15:21). Presumably then, Simon too, came to believe in Christ. “By his carrying of the Cross, Simon was brought to the knowledge of the Gospel of the Cross.” Through his encounter with Jesus, Simon was transformed – he went from being forced to carry Jesus’ Cross to willingly carrying his own!
This is what Jesus wills for us all: to lovingly pick up our crosses and follow after Him. Why? Because “it is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls.” It is in our weakness that we find His strength: “to suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ” (JPII’s encyclical letter, Salvifici Doloris). It is only when we are willing to put the will of God before even our own well-being, in complete and utter trust and love, that we truly live in the image the obedience of Jesus. It is only when we are willing to suffer for the good of others that we truly image the love of the Son. And it is only when we are willing to pick up our crosses, no matter the cost, and follow Jesus that we truly become conformed to Him.
Jesus, help us to trust in Your promise: that when we carry our crosses and are willing to lose our lives, we will find new life in You. Give us the strength to not only bear our own burdens, but to lovingly help others carry their own crosses. Fill us with your self-sacrificing and self-giving love, that we may no longer think of ourselves first, but instead be ready and willing to serve You by serving others. Teach us to follow Your example, that we may be loving, humble and obedient to death as well, even death on a cross!