STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 5 — Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross, by Joan Chittister

The Path to New Life

Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross Joan Chittister

From: The Way of the Cross

The Experience

The fifth station confronts a rigidly stratified world with the great crossover moments of life.  What are we supposed to do when we find ourselves face to face with something no one wants to get involved in but what we also know must be done?  It’s more common a problem than we like to think.

You and I, for instance, come to realize that two children in our block are living with their homeless mother in a car.  What do we do: Forget about it and hope some agency will come along and deal with the problem?  Call the police?  Find a tiny efficiency apartment and pay the rent for a year?  Join an organization that concentrates on finding shelter for homeless people?  Obviously it isn’t that there’s nothing that can be done about a dilemma like this or, as a matter of fact, about most of the social quandaries that are beginning to crowd our headlines, swamp our cities, pollute our country.  There are myriad ways to get involved with anything we want to get involved with.  It’s not that there are no solutions.  No, the problem really lies in being willing to get involved in the first place.

So, why don’t we?  Because.  Just because, that’s why.  Because we’re too busy, too tired, too old, too something whatever to care, perhaps.  Too removed from the problem to make it our own.  Too convinced that anyone who has worked as hard as we have in life could surely take care of themselves without our help.  Too ashamed to risk our present social image by retelling family stories of what it cost to come up in the world one small step at a time now that we’re there.

Clearly, someone else’s second-class social status can easily dim our own.  So we hurry by.

Simon of Cyrene was hurrying by, too, they tell us, when Roman soldiers, fearful that their prisoner would die before they had a chance to crucify him on Calvary, forced him into helping Jesus lift the heavy cross.

There is no word recorded in scripture about how Simon responded or why he hadn’t stopped to help in the first place, but we can guess: He was embarrassed, perhaps; irritated, perhaps; repulsed, perhaps.  And all those things are exactly the proof that we are being called to do something.  The fact is that when we feel like that about something, it is sure proof that we are being called to respond to it – because, obviously, we need as much help in dealing with this thing as does the person we’re avoiding on the street.

The Call

The call of the fifth station is a clear one: The function of the follower of Christ is to get involved.  The people we call outcasts in a society riven by poverty, war, racism, and sexism are the crucifixion figures of our time, bowed down under the weight of injustice, suffering from a system that has made them outcasts, invisible, pariah.

The people we do not see, have not known, or never associate with on the back streets of our cities need our voices raised in their behalf, our hearts softened in their behalf, our souls opened to lives far unlike our own.

The Model

The fifth station of the cross demonstrates for us the power of presence in the lives of the poor and oppressed.  Being where suffering is, associating ourselves with it, standing with those whom society has condemned is a great and gracious witness.  At life’s greatest moments we choose it.  At other times, it is thrust upon us when the state wants more tax money to support the needy, a relative’s child has nowhere to go for a while except with us, a neighbor turns to us for help we did not freely offer and do not want to give.  We’re overworked, we’re run ragged as it is, we don’t want to get in the middle of something we can’t get out of easily, we don’t want to change the already strained pattern of our own lives.  But sometimes, if we’re lucky, we find ourselves in one of life’s great acts whether we want to be there or not.  Then we so often discover that it is not so much what Simon did for Jesus as what Jesus did for Simon that counts.  Then we learn to recognize that by the very fact of our coming face to face with the other, Jesus is changing our life, too.

The questions with which the fifth station of the cross confronts us are, What are we being called to do for someone in need right now for which we are a disinclined observer?  What does the situation have to offer us as well?  When we open our hearts to the other in need, we are very likely to discover that our own hidden needs have been healed in the process.

The Rising

The determining dimension of new life in us at this station is the rise of new consciousness in us.  We become more alive because we learn to let more life in than we are accustomed to.  We have, in fact, come to live very protected lives.  We have blown a great bubble around ourselves – often more pious than really holy – which, until now, we never recognized was there.

We go through life meeting, partying, working with the same people.  We dig a moat of church-going, civic engagements, and neighborhood gates around us to the point that we never see what is on the other side of those barriers.  We keep the drawbridges of our small world raised and run the risk of missing the Jesus-figures who walk by looking for our help, our presence, our companionship through life.

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