From The Way of the Cross
Now Christ is followed by a great multitude of people, among them women who mourn over him, who weep loud for him. A strange thing happens. He turns to them and says, “It is not for me that you should weep, daughters of Jerusalem; you should weep for yourselves and for your children”: strange because at first sight it seems that he, who accepts every straw of compassion with pathetic gratitude, refuses the brave, open compassion of these women! It is, or seems to be, a contradiction; it is not like him to refuse anything from anyone.
We have seen how until now, and indeed all through his passion, he has accepted the compassion of anyone at all who would give it to him, accepting even the forced helped of Simon. But this accepting on Christ’s part began long before the hour of his passion struck; it was part of his plan of love from all eternity, his plan to depend on his creatures, to need them, to need all that they could and would give to him to fulfill that unimaginable plan of his love!
First of all he depended on Mary, his mother. Before he was born he was in this world among the men and women and children whom he had come to save, but hidden from them in her. He could go only to where she carried him. He could only speak through her words, his heart beat only through the beating of her heart. From the very beginning he asked for the simple substances that his own creatures could give him, to use to do the work of his love and redemption in the world. He asked Mary for her flesh and blood, for her self.
In Bethlehem he accepted even what the animals could give him. With the same love that he accepts the wooden cross on this culminating day of his passion, he accepted the wooden manger that the humble beasts could give him; he was stretched on that at his birth as he will be stretched on the cross in his death. He was grateful for the animals’ straw, for their warm, clover-sweet breath on his tiny limbs. He accepted the homage and the gifts of the poor shepherds and the gold, frankincense, and myrrh of the wise men, strange gifts for a little newborn child, perhaps even an embarrassment to Saint Joseph, who might have been suspected of theft were they found on him, a poor artisan when he had fled into hiding in Egypt.
Grown to manhood Jesus still asks for simple things, whatever his creatures can give him to use in working his miracles – especially miracles of multiplication, symbols for his self-giving to all men. In Cana he asks for cold water, cold water to be changed into the rich life-giving wine. In the wilderness he accepts the seemingly absurd little gift of a few loaves and small fishes from a boy in the crowd, to be changed into food to feed the whole multitude. To preach the word, to give the message of his father’s love, he borrowed Peter’s little fishing boat, just as he would borrow another man’s tomb when his love was consummated.
But above all else it is compassion that Christ has always wanted from men, has always asked for; he has wanted them to be with him, to comfort him just by entering into his suffering with him – not to take away his suffering but to enter into it with him, because it is his and it is the expression of his love for them!
What, then, is the meaning of this curious refusal of the compassion, of the tears, of the women of Jerusalem? “It is not for me that you should weep, daughters of Jerusalem; you should weep for yourselves and for your children.” Is this a refusal, a rebuke, or a warning?
In a sense it is none of these, but a showing, a pointing to something which, if these women miss, and if we miss today, they and we will have missed the meaning of Christ’s passion. Which if we miss, all our devotion to the person of Jesus Christ in his historical Passion, all our meditations and prayers, will be sterile and will fall short of their object to reach and comfort the heart of Christ. He is pointing to his passion in the souls of each of those women, in the souls of each of their children and their children’s children all through time. He is pointing to all those lives to come through all the ages in which his suffering will go on.
For himself the consummation of his love for the world is close: he is very near to Calvary now, in a few hours it will be over; he will be at peace and he will have entered into his glory. But in the souls of men his suffering will begin again, and it will go on all through the years to come. Evil will go on gathering strength all through the centuries to come; the Christ in man will be assaulted and threatened by it.
There will be many who will follow literally in Christ’s footsteps, who will enter into his glory with him through his sacrifice – martyrs who give their lives for their faith, young men who willingly give their lives for their country, children who die Christ’s own redeeming death because they die in the full power and splendor of innocence. It is not for these that we must weep, though we may weep for ourselves in our seeming loss of them. They are the privileged ones whose love is immediately consummated in Christ’s love. We must weep for ourselves, and for our fellows in whom Christ suffers on, still laboring, stumbling, falling on the Via Crucis, still mocked and goaded and assaulted on the way, still in the midst of the struggle.
There are those in every age in whom the suffering of Christ is manifest, almost visible, the beauty of his love shining through the ugliness of their circumstances. It is not for Christ in them that we must weep. It is for Christ whose beauty is hidden, Christ in the outcast, in the man who is wrestling with temptation, who is unrecognized, uncomforted; Christ in those whom we pass by without seeing, without knowing, whom we allow to stagger on, on his way, loaded with his too heavy cross, unhelped, unwept, uncomforted.
It is in order that we should seek him and give our compassion to him, weep for him in these, that Christ showed his need for sympathy in his Earthly life and on the way of the cross. We must weep for him in these and in our own souls, in these days, the days of the dry wood: “It is not for me that you should weep; you should weep for yourselves and your children. Behold, a time is coming when men will say, It is well for the barren, for the wombs that never bore children, and the breasts that never suckled them. It is then that they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us,” and to the hills, “Cover us.” If it goes so hard with the tree that is still green, what will become of the tree that is already dried up?” (Luke 23:28-31).
do not let me find consolation
in sensible devotion
to the person of Jesus Christ
while Jesus Christ passes me by
on the Via Crucis
we travel together.
Do not let my heart
be moved by pity
for the painted Christ on the wall
while it remains a stone,
to Christ suffering alone
in the ugliness of shame and disgrace
in the outcast,
in mental sufferers hidden away in hospitals,
in prisoners serving life sentences,
in people wrestling with bitterness and despair
behind the Iron Curtain;
in those fighting a losing fight
with human weakness and degradation—
in the unhelped,
Do not give me tears
to shed at the feet of the crucifix
while they blind me to Christ crucified,
in the souls of sinners
and in my own sinful soul.