Praying for perspective: Carrying the cross

Do we share our personal stories or hide them away?

By George Valadie

It’s got to be about a month now at least, and it probably felt really good to get back to work.

The holiday weekend seemed so long ago now; you know how it is. There’s all that lead-up, the preparation, the anxiety. Boom, it’s here, then barely over and our lives resume.

Not to mention the trip just to get there. Nine hundred miles is a jaunt even today. Admit it; most of us have no desire to drive that far, no matter who or what waits at the other end. Add a little danger to the journey, and home probably never looked so good.

Though he had long felt the call for this pilgrimage, he was equally happy to get home, oddly happy to resume all the sweat, the pain, the soreness of daily life as a farmer.

But, he had no idea that during one small incident, he had just lent a helping hand to the Messiah.

Meet Simon the Cyrenian.

I know it’s no longer Lent, and in any given year I seldom, if ever, think about the man, even when it is Lent. But I have to admit my mind wandered down his path one recent Sunday.

I was at Mass and our priest for the day was a foreign visitor with a challenging accent. I tried, I swear I did. I hung with him as long as I could. But I lost, gave up really, and found myself staring at the wall beside me at the fifth Station of the Cross.

The Gospel narrative doesn’t say a lot about the man, but it does say he had two boys and he’d come in from the country. I can imagine that he hadn’t really come to the town square that particular day for the same reason others were there.

His journey had been about Passover and a celebration of his faith. He probably had no idea he’d catch a double feature — a seder supper in the evening preceded by an execution on the hill.

In fact, he likely just happened upon this makeshift parade of one — suddenly wondering what was happening and who this heathen criminal might be.

Can’t you see him, politely making his way through the crowd, edging toward the front? Excuse me, ma’am. Pardon me, sir. Trying not to offend, but curious all the same.

No one envisions Simon as one who joined the spitters and the cursers. I’ve imagined his as more of an inquisitive look at death and the dead man soon to be. After all, we do it, too. It wasn’t unlike our own stolen glances when we drive by a wreck.

And at that exact moment, Jesus fell flat. The guards had but one task and that was to get this condemned man to the designated point at the designated time. So they could either pick this thing up themselves … or delegate.

And then they spotted Simon, “from the country.”

With years of difficult labor already behind him, and a dose of horrible luck in his pocket, Simon had to have looked physically fit. He looked available, too. Delegate found.

Did Simon want to help? I doubt it. To assist would render him “unclean” and unfit for the seder. And 900 wasted miles.

But then this Christ had to have looked whipped, literally and figuratively. And I doubt Simon was interested in crossing those guards. They were escorting one man to his death, two were already there and he had no reason to think they wouldn’t be just as happy making it four of a kind.

I picture Simon as a caring rock of a man, feeling sorry for Jesus, possibly willing to help, though not excited to. But how strange it must be to think that if you help a man carry his cross, you’re hurrying him along to his crucifixion.

Some no doubt thought Simon a traitor of sorts. He could have refused to participate. He could have told the guards this wasn’t his problem. He could have been a defender of what’s right.

Could have, but didn’t.

And then I recall he was the father of two sons. He probably wanted and needed to get back to them; and, as we have all learned, there are some fights you save for later.

I choose to believe that Jesus didn’t blame him either.

So here we are, back at our own jobs for a about a month or so. Back in the stream of normalcy, long removed from the holiday, the Lenten preparation, the anticipation.

And too often we’re also long removed from the promise we made to be a little better, to do a little better, to more frequently appreciate the sacrifice we saw offered on our behalf.

And just like that countryman farmer, we’ve been asked to pick up a different cross since He made it clear that “whatever you do to the least of my brothers …”

Have our lives become a story to retell to our grandchildren? Or one better kept in the secrecy of our souls?

Dear God — We celebrate what you did … but did not have to do. We just don’t do it enough. Amen.


George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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