SIMON OF CYRENE HELPS JESUS TO CARRY HIS CROSS
Our Blessed Lord did not carry His Cross alone; He was accompanied by many. Indeed, all who walked with the procession to the place of execution took part in the carrying of the Cross, each in his own way. Here, we may distinguish two different groups among them: Those who load our Lord with the Cross and those who literally carry the Cross with Him.
First Group.----Those who load our Lord with the Cross. Those who lay the Cross upon our Lord's shoulders are the authors of His Passion----viz., the Jews, the Priests, the Pharisees, the soldiers, the executioners and their assistants. They are all guilty of His Passion, and increase it by their cruelty and mockery. They themselves carry a cross too----the cross of their evil passions and sins. They are the tools of Satan, and it is his yoke that they drag along. This is an inglorious cross----a fatal cross, which leads not to redemption, but to eternal death. Whoever does not embrace the Cross of Jesus must bear that of Satan.
And in a wider sense we and all men belong to those who load our Lord with the Cross. They are our sins that He is painfully carrying----our sins, that are pressing upon Him with such cruel weight----which of us has not contributed a share to weight the Cross laid on our dear Lord? How just and fitting, then, that we should accompany our Lord, and now at least make reparation to Him for the hardships and cruelties of this journey by the relief our compassion and gratitude can afford Him! As Jesus allowed Himself to be loaded with the Cross through love of me, so shall I accept each cross that is laid on me, through love for Him. When nature is ready to sink beneath the burden of the cross I shall look confidently to Jesus for grace to carry it patiently and meritoriously.
Many, says St. Alphonsus Liguori, love Jesus, as long as the breeze of heavenly consolation refreshes them; but if the clouds of adversity lower, if for their trial, Christ, our dear Lord, withdraws His sensible presence from them, they are sorely tempted to give up prayer, neglect self-denial, sink into despondency and tepidity, and finally turn for comfort to creatures and perishable things. Such souls love themselves more than Jesus Christ. Those who truly love our Lord are faithful in darkness and trial. Faith tells us that Jesus is as sovereignly amiable and good when He afflicts as when He consoles. Oh, how dear to the Heart of Jesus is the soul who suffers with loving submission! Precious, beyond all graces, is the grace to suffer and to love!
COLLOQUY.----O most sweet Jesus, draw me close to Thy Heart and help me to love the Cross, for without the Cross I know there can be no close union with Thee. "Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou shalt go." I do want to be wholly Thine; take me, and dispose of me ever and always, according to the good pleasure of Thy Heart. May I at last, by likeness to Thee, and union with thee, become a true disciple of Thy Heart. "Thou art my God and my Eternal King!"
Second Group.----Those who literally carry the Cross with Jesus. The two malefactors are the first in this group. They go with Jesus and carry their crosses to the place of execution. But they do not carry them for Jesus, for faith and virtue, but on account of their crimes and misdeeds. Nor do they carry them as Jesus did His, but only under compulsion, raging and gnashing their teeth, and----one of them at all events, the thief on the left side----with evil consequences. For him it may have been the instrument of eternal damnation. But in the heart of the good thief the first emotions of the contrition and penance that he so touchingly completed on the cross, may have just begun to stir during the carrying of the cross.
Another who literally carries the Cross with Jesus is Simon of Cyrene, who actually carried it part of the way to Calvary. How did this happen? Simon was returning from the country, and, as it appears, just entering by the city gate; for we are told that the soldiers found him as they were going out, laid hold on Him, and forced Him to take up our Lord's Cross. Why? Because the weakness and exhaustion of Jesus was so great that they feared He would succumb on the way under its weight. They laid the Cross on him to carry after Jesus.
It was for Simon's sake much more than for His own that our Lord shared His Cross with him. The virtue that came from its contact with the Son of God went out to him who followed in His footsteps. Quickly Simon learned his lesson. From bearing the Cross reluctantly he came to bear it patiently, willingly, joyfully, reaching thus the highest perfection of which love is capable on earth. We may assume this in respect of Simon himself. And as regards Alexander and Rufus, his sons, the fact of their being mentioned by name in this place of St. Mark's Gospel may show that they received extraordinary graces through Simon's good deed.
To carry after Jesus.----What blessed words! I shall do well to hear them, as they apply to me just as truly as to Simon. There is rarely a day that I have not the privilege of bearing some cross for and after Jesus, my dear Master. What a loss for eternity if I neglect my opportunities. Do I? They laid the Cross on him. True, but did Simon stop at the instrument? When, after years spent in his Master's service, he looked back to the meeting on the road to Calvary, did he so much as think of the hands that constrained him? Was not the design of God too plain? Was it not God Who planned that meeting, who chose him for the honour of being the first to carry the Cross after Jesus.
Looking back on their lives, from the bed of death and from their place in Heaven, the servants of God see that what they could least spare out of their life would be its crosses. It is the Cross that has stamped them all with the mark special to the elect. For whom He foreknew He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son (Rom. viii). How wonderful are God's dealings with us. How continually He turns our days of trouble into times of the richest blessing. Little did Simon of Cyrene think that Friday morning as he went forth to his daily toil, that grace was lying in wait for him on the road to Calvary----that hidden in the Cross of pain and shame was laid up for him the highest honour and never-ending joy.
We rise in the morning and make our plans for the day. God has made His for us. Turning a corner, we find the Cross of Christ awaiting us, and with it the grace that with a little effort on our part will enable us to bear it bravely after our Master. How is it that whilst we have plenty of congratulations for Simon we have nothing but compassion for ourselves!
COLLOQUY.----Teach me, dear Lord, to bear my crosses with faith, and hope, and love.
With faith----to believe that every cross comes from Thy hand----to cry out when I see it in the distance: It is the Lord. With hope----because, dear Jesus, if I follow Thee to Calvary now, I shall follow Thee into Thy Kingdom by-and-by. With love----that will make me glad to bear something for Thee Who hast borne so much for me. Mother, imprint deeply on my heart the wounds of Thy Crucified Son; Make me feel as Thou hast felt; Make my soul to glow and melt With the love of Christ thy Son.