I had a classmate who frequently suffered from bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts. One day, after unsuccessfully attempting to end her life, she approached me for help. Among many things, I spoke to her about Jesus and his love for us. She did not have many friends but it was this one encounter that apparently transformed her life, as I would find out years later. She is now doing very well in her career, prays regularly and never again has had thoughts of despair or suicide.
I reflected on one such encounter more than 2000 years ago. An encounter between 2 men that would forever alter the course of history.
Simon of Cyrene and his two sons Rufus and Alexander had entered the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, which for the Hebrews was the holiest of all feasts, commemorating their deliverance from slavery. As they walked through the side streets into the Via Dolorosa, they saw the barbaric site of a terribly wounded and bruised man carrying a cross. Before they could even react to this gruesome scene, Simon was dragged into the street and ordered by the Centurion to shoulder the burden of the man’s cross.
What a shameful moment for him, carrying a cross and marching through the city in the company of common criminals.
As he had a glimpse of the man, his first impulse was to turn away in revulsion. One eye of the man was swollen, nearly shut. His body was bruised and battered with bits of flesh hanging. His skin was pasty and white probably from the loss of a great amount of blood. His beard was matted with dry blood and flecks of spittle coated his raw lips.
Women wept and wailed around but everything seemed to recede in the background, leaving just him and the man on the barren hill.
The words of prophet Isaiah probably would have flashed in the mind of Simon.
“He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised and we held him of no account. (Isaiah 53:2-3)”
It was then that he realised that he was staring and carrying the cross of the man they called Jesus, the Messiah.
As Jesus put his hand on Simon’s shoulder, his touch was both a blessing and a benediction, causing Simon to tremble in reverence. Before Simon could even muster the courage to speak, a soldier positioned Jesus on the cross and drove a 5 inch nail into his flesh. Simon looked aside and walked away, being unable to bear the brutality of it all.
It was one encounter, one moment, one intervention in the suffering of Jesus that would transform the life of Simon forever. The grace of God drew Simon that fateful day and because Simon was chosen to carry the Lord’s cross, his life and the lives of his family were altered forever.
Jesus calls us to have an encounter with Him daily– in the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Sacrament. Padre Pio writing about Holy Mass says,
“Every Holy Mass, heard with devotion, produces in our souls, marvellous effects, abundant spiritual and material graces which we ourselves, do not know.”
About the Blessed Sacrament, St. Gertrude writes,
“Every time we look at the Blessed Sacrament, our place in heaven is raised forever.”
Jesus also calls each of us to carry the small crosses that come our way in the form of hurts, sickness, pain etc.
“On this earth everyone has his cross. But we must act in such a way that, we be not the bad but good thief.”
~ St. Padre Pio
Simon of Cyrene was forever immortalised because of his encounter with Jesus.
Are we hungry for an encounter with Him?