The Fifth Station: Simon Helps Jesus Carry the Cross
As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
Recently I went on a silent retreat led by a man named Joe, a lay Passionist. The theme of the weekend was the Passion of Christ. He shared something very profound that his spiritual director shared with him: three levels of the spiritual life.
The first is the level of loving Jesus. We are excited to be in relationship with him and we express that by doing things FOR the Lord. We join committees, we go on mission trips, we volunteer. It’s a nice place to be.
The next level is a bit more challenging, but rewarding. It’s the level of doing things WITH the Lord. We learn how to invite God in to everything we do. We operate with his strength and, together, we achieve great things.
The third level is altogether different. It’s much more intense and few go there. Even those who venture into this level often find themselves ricocheting back to Level 1. This is the level of doing things AS the Lord by uniting ourselves fully to Jesus.
The reason so few go there is because, inevitably, it involves the Cross.
Joe explained it with this story: Years ago he was working in youth ministry when one of his students became very ill and was hospitalized. Living in a region of the country where Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is common, the doctor recognized its symptoms and began treating the boy immediately. Joe received a call from the boy’s parents and made his way to the hospital (“Christian radio blaring and my cross necklace outside my shirt,” he said). Upon arriving he found the boy’s parents in a waiting room. He joined them and began encouraging them with the Good News and cracking jokes to break the tension. Then Joe recounted in vivid detail the moment the doctor came to the waiting room, a nurse at his side.
“We misdiagnosed him. Your son just took his last breath.”
Joe described leaving the hospital that day as a resignation from his post as the “cool Christian guy” with all the answers. He drove home in silence; no Christian radio blaring as he went. He put his cross inside his shirt and quit.
“It was too hard,” he said. “The cross was too real.”
Whether Simon chose to help Jesus that day or not, we aren’t sure. One thing that is sure is that the Cross of our Lord was laid on his shoulders. In that moment he was united with the sufferings of Christ in a profoundly intense way. Jesus’ blood on the cross ran down his head and back. The soldiers’ whips stung his shoulders. The mocking and spitting from the crowds gathered fell on him. The Cross was real, and he himself carried it.
St. Mark’s account of this story includes the mention of Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus. His Gospel was most likely written in Rome, so it is possible that the Rufus St. Paul mentions in Romans 16 is the same one. “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord…” It isn’t unlikely; I imagine watching his dad walk the Way of Sorrows produced a keen appreciation for and understanding of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” He would know what it cost, and he would see the effect it had in his father’s life, which was surely never the same after that day.
Jesus, by your grace, help me not to fashion crosses of my own choosing, nor try to lift one with my own strength, but, united to you, enable me to carry your cross and follow your way, for truly its end is life everlasting.
V: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You. (Genuflect)
R: Because, by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world. (Rise)
V: Consider how weak and weary Jesus was. At each step He was at the point of expiring. Fearing that He would die on the way when they wished Him to die the infamous death of the cross, they forced Simon of Cyrene to help carry the cross after Our Lord. (Kneel)
R: My beloved Jesus I will not refuse the cross as Simon did:
I accept it and embrace it.
I accept in particular the death that is destined for me
with all the pains that may accompany it.
I unite it to Your death and I offer it to You.
You have died for love of me;
I will die for love of You and to please You.
Help me by Your grace.
I love You, Jesus, my Love;
I repent of ever having offended You.
Never let me offend You again.
Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will.
(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.)
St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Stations of the Cross