How strange, really. Think about it. We know there were crowds gathered watching all that transpired, friends and foes alike, but when the soldiers decided to rope someone in to help carry the cross, they grabbed Simon, who was just a “passer-by … who was coming in from the country” (Mark 15:21), just an ordinary man going about his day.
He didn’t ask for it. And in each of the Synoptic Gospels, all we get is the one verse about him. We don’t know how he reacted initially; all we know is that he ultimately helped Jesus carry his cross, and he is now recognized as a saint.
In reflecting on St. Simon of Cyrene, I stumbled across one of my own misconceptions, one I didn’t realize I even had. Remember when you were little and people would ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up? The first time I remember being asked this, I remember thinking, “a mom, of course,” but that was not the “correct” answer. They were really asking what type of job I wanted to do when I was an adult, thus equating “what you do” with “who you are.”
Looking back, I can see that from then on, I began to think of my future as what I wanted to do. Being a mom, though it was the only answer that stayed constant in my heart as everything else changed through my life, had taken a back seat to figuring out what career path I wanted to follow. What did I want to do? What did I want to get out of life?
Though figuring out a career path is very important, the problem with this mentality I had was that it revolved only around me. I needed to do what was best for me and focus on making my own life what I wanted it to be. Yes, this involved trying to listen for what God wanted me to do, but I had only factored myself into the equation. I had only thought about my own crosses that I would have to bear through my life.
Enter Simon of Cyrene. He was walking along, going about his own life, probably thinking about where he had just been or where he was going and bam! He’s roped in to helping Jesus carry his cross. He had his own life to worry about, his own plans, but he was called on to stop focusing on his own life and help carry someone else’s cross.
Sometimes, I hear about bad things happening in my friends’ and family’s lives, and my soul feels heavy. I ask, “This isn’t my cross, Lord, so why is it weighing on me?” Well, maybe Simon felt the same way at first.
That is the misconception I realized I have: that I only have my own cross to bear. But this mentality does not line up with who we are as Catholics. Being Catholic is not just about a personal journey, it’s about us travelling as a caravan to heaven. And sometimes, this means carrying our own burdens while simultaneously helping a friend carry his or hers.
This should come as no surprise to us though, right? In Mass, we receive the Eucharist during Communion, which has the same root as “community,” thus highlighting the importance of not just our personal moment with Christ but the fact that we are all receiving him together.
We will always have our own crosses to bear, but we will also be called on to help others bear theirs as well, even when we least expect it. And unfortunately, helping someone bear a cross does not mean removing the cross for him or her. There is so much in life we cannot simply “fix,” and this usually makes me feel so helpless.
But what we have to remember — what I myself must remember — is that bearing a cross with someone still has purpose, even when there’s nothing we can do to fix other people’s problems. We can be a comforting shoulder or listening ear for our brethren, and we must always remember to pray, even when we feel helpless. Especially when we feel helpless, because we do not stand alone.