Friday, March 30, 2012

The Fifth Station

Friday, Fifth Week in Lent

Simon the Cyrenean helps Jesus Carry His Cross

"As they led Him away, they laid hold of one Simon the Cyrenean who was coming in from the fields. They put a crossbeam on Simon's shoulder for him to carry along behind Jesus." —Luke 23:26

Talking with the children about the fifth Station of the Cross

Isn't it a comfort to know that in the midst of all the horror and agony of the passion and crucifixion,  Our Lord did receive some moments of love and compassion? The first such instance recorded in the Stations is His meeting with His mother  (in the fourth Station); the second is His meeting up with Simon of Cyrene; the third we will pray about tomorrow when Veronica aids Him, and before He reaches Calvary, at the eighth Station, Jesus meets the sorrowing women of Jerusalem.   Every one of these examples shows us that all the world was not filled with hate that terrible day, but there's a difference about the comfort given by Simon the Cyrenian in the fifth Station: it was not voluntary.

Simon, a Jew from Cyrene, Lybia, is thought to have been a black man.  He was likely visiting from his home in northern Africa and was in Jerusalem for the Passover, though these details are not definitely known.  What we do know is that on the day of Our Lord's crucifixion, Simon was plucked randomly from the crowd and set to work.  He had no choice in the matter; one did not argue with the orders of the Roman army.  Most likely, at the moment he was pressed into service, Simon would rather have been anywhere else in the world than right there. In other words, his charity was not voluntary.  But, as it turns out, when he picked up the cross, this stranger from Africa became one of the most famous and important figures in the history of the world.  Involuntarily.  Or was it?

It's believed by many that by the time he reached Calvary with the Jesus and His cross, Simon was a changed man, well on his way to being a Christian.  Proof of this is St. Mark's identification (Mark 15:21) of Simon's sons, Rufus and  Alexander, who are believed to have been well-known in Christian circles later on.  It's logical to assume that their father's conversion preceded their own.  And, seriously, how could Simon have looked into the eyes of his Saviour and not been converted?

But what are the lessons here?  First of all, it's always interesting to see how conversions can come in the most unlikely ways for the most unlikely people!    It's a wonderful study reading about remarkable conversions.  There is a website devoted to these tales that is fascinating to read with the children. 

Second is the obvious example for us to help one another as Simon helped Jesus -- and as Jesus helped Simon. The world is full of poor and needy crying out for our help.

But there is also a good moral in the way in which Simon's charity came about. You see, it's just that Simon was forced to help Jesus.  He didn't choose his act of charity, God chose it for him.  God often does that to us, too, but we don't recognize that the mandate comes from Him.  It's a wonderful, important thing to give to our favorite charities, and it's a delightfully easy and satisfying thing to do because we choose the time, the place, and the gift.  But, how well do we handle the calls to help that we don't control?  The ones that are sent by God? 

Do we really understand the old platitude: Charity begins at home?  It's gratifying for the children to save their dimes and quarters for the poor box or to add canned food to the food bank to help distant strangers, but how well do they answer the call to help when their littler siblings can't get their pajamas turned right side out?  How quick are they to help with the chores? Do they put them off or whine about them?  If the garbage can tips over in the driveway, do they run to pick up the trash -- without complaining? How well do we parents teach our children by our example of charity and generosity toward our spouses, our extended family members, the poor and needy on our own doorsteps?  Do we stop to help the man with the sign at the highway on-ramp or do we just talk about it as we pass him by?  Do we aid our elderly parents and grandparens in any way we can?   Do we stop what we're doing and immediately help a family member who needs us, or do we say: "Just a minute"?  How seriously do we take our mission of charity to those closest to us?

By the time Simon got Jesus and his Cross to the top of Calvary, he probably wished he'd been there to help at the start of the journey instead of just the last leg of it. No doubt he was sorry he'd been so reluctant to take up the cross in the first place, but there is little doubt that in the end he was glad he'd been given the job.  He lost a few hours of a Friday morning, but he gained his immortal soul.  We can learn and merit like Simon did.  Our daily calls to help -- we often call them "chores" -- are the duties of our station in life also given to us by God.  If we choose to think of them that way we are taking the part of Simon, ascending Calvary with Christ.  And at the end of the road is Paradise.

The Fifth Station (St. Alphonsus de Liguori):

Simon Helps Jesus Carry the Cross

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.)

Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain
In that Mother's pain untold?

Fifth Station (St. Francis of Asissi)
 Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross

V. We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee.
R. Because by Thy holy Cross, Thou hast redeemed the world.

Simon of Cyrene was forced to help our exhausted Savior carry His Cross. How pleased would Jesus have been, had Simon offered his services of his own accord. However, Simon was not invited by Christ as you are. He says: "Take up your cross and follow Me." Nevertheless you recoil, and carry it grudgingly.

O Jesus, * whosoever does not take up his cross and follow Thee, * is not worthy of Thee. * Behold, I cheerfully join Thee on the way of the cross. * I desire to carry it with all patience until death, * that I may prove worthy of Thee.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be.

Lenten Stational Church in Rome
Thursday, fifth week in Lent, S. Apollinare in Campo Marzio.

The inscription on the lintel of the main door of St. Apollinare in Latin tells the faithful: Currite Christicolae templum Ingred cuncta. Intrante Sit pax, redeunt sancti gratia,  which, translated, essentially means:  Hurry on in!  Enter in peace; leave with the blessing of the saints.

You can find a great little history of this church here.  And, for more information, pictures and an aerial map of St. Apollinare's location in Rome, you can go here.

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