Even as a child, I could not escape the Stations of the Cross during the Lenten and Easter seasons.  Not even baskets of jellybeans, marshmallow chicks, and large chocolate rabbits could divert me from the horrors I perceived of crucifixion.  I was four years old in 1953 when I sat in the Capitol Theater with my mother and brother to watch “The Robe.”  It frightened me.

from “The Robe”

I drifted from my Catholic roots in the late 60s in college, but I re-engaged in 2004 – visiting a small Catholic chapel I passed at 0500 in New Melle, Missouri on my way to work – and became fully immersed as I witnessed the depth of belief of a small group of Redemptorist priests in the Arizona desert the following decade.

The deeper I journeyed, the more important the Stations of the Cross became for me.  No one on Earth is immune from suffering, and the example Jesus sets for us in how to deal with suffering is the core of the Via Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Way, the Way of the Cross.  Now at 74 years old, they are my roadmap for life.  In recent Lenten and Easter Seasons, I’ve focused on the third, seventh, and ninth stations when Jesus falls.

The Stations of the Cross
  1. Jesus is condemned to death.
  2. Jesus received his cross.
  3. Jesus falls the first time.
  4. Jesus meets his mother.
  5. Simon helps Jesus to carry the cross.
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
  7. Jesus falls the second time.
  8. Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem.
  9. Jesus falls the third time.
  10. Jesus is stripped of his garments.
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross.
  12. Jesus dies on the cross.
  13. Jesus is taken down from the cross.
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.
from “The Passion”

This year, as I emerge from two years of physical and mental challenge, my mind turns to the fifth station, “Simon helps Jesus to carry the cross.”  Somewhere on Jesus’ journey from Pilate’s court at the Fortress Antonio to the summit of Calvary, a stone’s throw from the walls of Jerusalem, his Roman escort recruited the help of Simon the Cyrene to ensure Jesus made it to Golgotha.  They would not be denied of their final cruelty – crucifixion – nor would this man Jesus be denied of his ultimate suffering.

We are never alone.
We can’t go it alone.

As we face our trials and tribulations, our personal challenges, we need our spiritual and physical support system, our own reincarnations of Simon.  We wrote about this extensively in Lesson #4 in our Dealing with Cancer series.

The farther we advance in life, the more apt we are to experience suffering in ourselves, those we love, and those who love us.  As he lifts the heavy cross from Jesus’ bruised and broken shoulder, Simon’s example reassures us that we are never alone.  At a minimum, God is with us and in the words of Francis de Sales ‘he will either shield you from suffering, or give you the strength to bear it.’

As Jesus accepts Simon’s help, he affirms that we cannot go it alone and that there is no shame in accepting help from those who band together to help us bear the suffering.  I am reminded of these lessons every Tuesday evening when I read the Sunset Prayer offering from The Vitruvian Man’s Book of Hours

God give charge to they blessed angels,
To keep guard around this stead tonight,
A band sacred, strong, and steadfast.
That will shield this soul-shrine from harm.

Safeguard Thou, God, this household tonight,
Themselves and their means and their fame,
Deliver them from death, from distress, from harm,
From the fruits of envy and of enmity.

Give Thou to us, O God of peace,
Thankfulness despite our loss,
To obey Thy statutes hear below,
And to enjoy Thyself above.

Carmina Gadelica, prayers from the Gaelic tradition

Mitakuye Oyasin

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  1. Right on, Gene. There’s a notice at the intersection I saw in DC. At the stop sign it reads:” Cross traffic does not stop.” How true that is and thank God for the Simons in our lives who help us bear our cross(es).
    Peace and Mitakuye Oyasin

  2. I have been thinking about the word Emmanuel or “God with us.” Following Christ does not mean we are immune from suffering or sacrifice. In the midst of the suffering and sacrifice we can count on the fact that God is with us.