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Forced to carry the cross

by Fr. Michael Della Penna

Simon of Cirene was the man that carried the cross for Jesus.

What some do not realize, however, is that he was forced to do so by the soldiers against his will. In one sense we were all forced to carry the cross of the corona virus. Not only those who have suffered and died because of it, but also the medical profession in particular, but all of us in general. In some ways, we have all been like Simon of Cirene, called to embrace this difficult time and to bear this heavy burden which we did not choose. We can never the less, embrace this cross as a means to unite us to Jesus. This is our choice, as much as it was Simon’s; not whether to carry it, but how to carry it. As the expression goes, life is not what happens to us but what we do with what happens to us.

While carrying the cross is something unwanted, unplanned and unpleasant, ironically, for Simon, it would be the most significant and meaningful thing he would do in his whole life, earning him a unique and unforgettable place in salvation history, greater than any athlete, entertainer, politician, or writer ever could attain. This forced task, as humbling and disruptive to his own agenda, becomes, in the end, the most important thing Simon ever did.
For us, embracing this cross with grace and love can be a means of not only coming to peace with the reality that suffering is an inevitable part of life, but accepting some “other deaths” before our physical death, that is, letting some parts of ourselves die. When Jesus invites us to die in order to find life, he is not talking about physical death but rather about “dying to self.” It’s a call to absolute surrender which can teach us how to depend on God more and more each day.

It also purifies our love, which as St. Thomas Aquinas defined it is “willing the good of the other” By turning our often self-referential love toward our neighbor, we can learn to love more fully. Rather than dwelling on our own sufferings, we can, moved by compassion for other people, use this time to come out of ourselves and pray for and help others who are in need.

If you want to love more authentically, beyond our romantic fantasies, and keep any commitment we have ever made in marriage, parenting, friendship, or religious vocation, we can do so only if we are willing to sweat blood and die to ourselves at times. There is no other route. That is the message of the cross. Love costs, costs everything. What you see when you look at the cross of Jesus is what true committed love asks of us; choosing to embrace the suffering, saying: “Not my will, but yours, be done.”

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