Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Shoulderings, Part 2 of 3: The Cross
The cross, and indeed the Cross. Luke 9:23: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Matt 10:38: “He who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” Very sobering, that second one.
And then there is the Cross, on that dreadful journey to Calvary. Matthew 27:32: “As they were marching out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry His cross.” The second and third accounts of the scene each add a detail. Mark 15:21: “And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry His cross”; Luke 23:26: “And as they led Him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus.”
Several years ago I heard some words in a young priest’s homily which have remained with me ever since. He said, “For each of us, the cross is that thing which we would least wish to bear.”*
Simon most certainly did not want to bear it. He was forced.
St Alphonsus Liguori, in his reflection on the fifth Station of the Cross, attributes the conscription of Simon to the fear of the Jewish leaders that Jesus would die on the way to Calvary, when they wished him to die an ignominious death on the cross. This passage gave rise to a strange experience some weeks ago, when I was standing at the fifth Station in the church of St Mary-on-the-Quay in Bristol.
In this representation, Simon is bent forward with the full weight of the cross on his back. He has turned his face in our direction, to look up at Jesus, Who is walking beside him. I had a horrible intuition from the look on Simon’s face: he knew all too well that this was no act of compassion he had been forced to undertake. He was carrying the cross so that in a little while Jesus would undergo a far, far more terrible agony. He was in fact making it worse for Jesus. And he knew it. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for his unwillingness: a sense of desperate pity that would have preferred the poor suffering Man to die quickly under the weight of the cross, and get it over with. But Simon had no choice. The sheer awfulness of it suddenly became very real to me. You never know what will come to you when you follow the Stations of the Cross.
*As a matter of interest, the priest was Dom Paul Gunter, who is now the Secretary of the Liturgy Commission of the Bishops of England and Wales.
Picture from communio.stblogs.org, via Google Images