Helping to carry the cross

| Deacon Mickey Friesen | April 8, 2020 | 0 Comments

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The Eighth Station: Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross.

Whenever we walk or pray the Stations of the Cross, we come to that point in the journey when we ponder the time when Jesus needed help. Simon, a bystander from Cyrene in North Africa, was called out from the crowd to accompany Jesus along the way to Calvary and help him carry the cross. He could not prevent, nor possibly understand the reason for, the cruel treatment inflicted on Jesus, but he could walk with him in his suffering. Many images of this station show Jesus and Simon’s eyes meeting as they share the load of the cross.

Jesus is still suffering with people all around the world in our time. We often cannot “fix” the past or present injustices we see, or remove the problems that plague those around us. Today, so many live in fear and stress over the uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic marching across the planet and reaching closer to home every day. We struggle to be close while we are socially distant. We cannot take away the pain, but sometimes we may be in a position to lighten the load for a while. Sometimes we can give our strength, courage and talents to ease another’s burden. Sometimes all we can give is our presence — a commitment to listening, caring and praying.

How encouraging it is to find a companion who cares about our troubles and worries. In such a friend, we see a reflection of Christ who walks with us. Simon of Cyrene is an image and icon of the Church in mission. God continues to call us to walk in solidarity with those who carry heavy crosses and suffer injustice. The Church is a sign of Christ’s presence when we reach out to accompany those who struggle.

While we struggle to be present to our own current situation, we cannot neglect our brothers and sisters who wonder if anyone cares. In particular, I am aware of our sister dioceses in Venezuela, Kenya and Syria. Each was already suffering before the virus added weight to the crosses they carry. In Venezuela, people are living with few basic necessities and a faltering state. In Kenya, they are facing the total loss of crops due to a locust plague sweeping across their fields. And in Syria, so many suffer the loss of home, life and limb because of the aftermath of civil war. Each of these are overwhelming by themselves, but seem mind-boggling together. Despite our social and geographic distance, there are ways to accompany them. There may be little we can do to fix their situations, but we can offer our solidarity and support, our presence and prayer.

Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus reflects: “This new situation has made the Church poorer also — a Wall of Lamentation where one comes to weep, to cry for help, and look without ostentation and silently for some consolation, to live out the passion of Christ before Holy Week. … A new vocation is emerging with its colors of the beatitudes and based on love, forgiveness, praise and compassion … all under the light of paschal hope. (Today) we must not let the route for Simon of Cyrene be blocked.”

God still calls us from the crowd to help Christ carry the cross. We can give our attention, our presence, and accompany our brothers and sisters in faith. Some of us may be able to give support or share a talent to lighten their load, but we can all stand in the solidarity of faith and be in prayerful communion with those who carry the cross. We can live the mission of the Eighth Station and help Jesus, disguised in the faces of the poor, the sick, the refugees and the isolated among us, carry the cross.

May the way of Simon of Cyrene remain open for us to accompany and help Jesus carry the cross in our own time.

Deacon Friesen is director of the Center for Mission in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Category: Featured, The Local Church