Wednesday, 7 November 2007

V. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross

Simon is enlisted to help Jesus carry his cross - he was just a passer by, minding his own business and yet he was to meet, quite suddenly, with Christ.

I am quite sure that there are a thousand reflections written about Simon stopping on the road that day, but what strikes me most about this story is how we meet the sacred through our human necessity.

On pilgrimage there is often an element of hardship through which people have to travel. On the road to Santiago de Compostela many pilgrims come face to face with their ordinary human needs:

Clare described the austerity of the lodging houses along the way: a room with twenty bunk beds, one toilet and only cold water to wash in. Local volunteers would come and provide hot food from one big pot for the weary travellers. But the exhuasted pilgrims, the delight of finding a bed to lie in, water in which to wash and a meal to eat made this basic accommodation a joy to arrive at. Clare described how a sense of the holiness of things was greatly intensified by the state of necessity - by the awareness of one's need for food, water, sleep and the companionship of one's fellow pilgrims.

But, what can this say to us about Simon. A man who's physical needs and sufferings pale in comparison to the journey Jesus is taking on his way to Gologtha?

The modern journey to Lourdes could not be more different from that to Santiago. Trains, coaches and planes transport people rapidly to hotels of every standard, according to the pilgrims ability and willingness to pay. Yet if we ask who are the people who travel to Lourdes, the question of speed and comfort takes on a somewhat different aspect. For many of the pilgrims are very ill or handicapped and may have been advised by doctors not to travel at all. For them the journey to Lourdes is every bit as physically tough as that of the health pilgrim on the road to Santiago de Compostela. Moreover, many of the pilgrims are people whose lives are already dominated by physical necessity: they need help with the most basic tasks, such as getting dressed or going to the toilet, whilst other have life threatening illnesses. The able bodied people who go to Lourdes to help those who are sick and handicapped often describe their own experience of the pilgrimage as one of totally exhausting hard work but, at the same time, as an occasion of enormous grace and joy. Pilgrims of all kinds typically say that Lourdes is an exceptionally holy place where they find peace and know the presence of God.

Sacred Space - House of God, Gate of Heaven
Marian Pilgrimage and its Destination - Sarah Jane Boss

Simon was dragged off the street to help someone he had never met with their heavy burden. It was an uncomfortable and even painful job, he may even have been threatened while he was doing it, but while he was walking he met with God. In one sense Jesus needed Simon to help him, in another it was Simon who needed Christ. Sometimes people are tempted to hide their needs, but in the story of pilgrimage, and in reflecting on the Way of the Cross, it becomes clear that it is through admitting our basic necessities, in asking for help when we need it, we not only recieve, but are enabled to help others. This is part of our humanity, but it is also part of our sacredness as persons

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