Lenten Reflection: Fifth Station of the Cross: Re-visiting Our Role on Calvary
'I'll show you what will happen to the wood...Stay with Me, all the way to the end'.
Witnessing the destruction of innocent human life is the way of the cross. That unpleasant walk up Calvary. It's where we meet Jesus… but Simon too, the man from Cyrene. In the synoptic Gospels, he appears... mysteriously... almost accidentally... showing up from a place in northern Africa, where Libya is now. We remember him at the Fifth Station of the Cross where his assistance keeps the Passion moving along.
Why him—this strong man who took the load that was crushing Jesus?
He was an agrarian, scholars say. The Gospel accounts (Mk 15:21; Lk 23:26) tell of him "coming in from the country." He was most likely Jewish, having come up from Cyrene for the feast of Passover.
There were Jews in Cyrene. How many, we're not sure. It was mostly a pagan culture, originally settled by Greeks, but a province of Rome by Simon's time—and still ruled (in minds and hearts) by the Greco-Roman pantheon. At the top stood Apollo.
Strange that a man from a land of lofty mythological gods should arrive at the same time a broken, humbled man was being executed for upsetting the predictions of the Hebrew prophets. God was supposed to send a regal savior. A messiah—not a mere mortal. Compared to the perfectly-sculpted statues Simon must have known back in Cyrene, Jesus was a stark contrast. Yahweh´s response to Apollo was to be a king… not a criminal. This couldn´t be….
From a distance, Simon must´ve pieced the story together. The crowd explained. This mortal did what!? He befriended the sinful? Laid hands on the imperfect? Claimed equality with God? Told the people… even women… to call God "Abba"!? Enough said. Gods do not father these kind. He has earned his riddance from society. He must die.
That power to take a life. It´s what impotent gods like Apollo bequeath to societies when either…or both… feel their realms are threatened.
The pagans were in awe of their all-satisfying Apollo. His name was explained by Plato (in the Socratic dialogue-book called Cratylus). It meant "redeemer." Or "purifier." He was given other titles besides, like "giver of oracles" and "dispenser of medicines." An ancient stone Temple still stands in Cyrene today. His legacy, if you think about it.
It was a comfortable existence, this region along the coast. The Grecian gods had blessed the land. Lush, green hills and fields. A port on the Mediterranean. Even a spring—the Fountain of Apollo—that flowed with waters which the Cyreneans said could heal.
The early inhabitants lived an ultra-hedonistic lifestyle. Cyreniacs, they called themselves. Pleasure is the "summun bonun." Pain is evil—always to be avoided. By Simon's time, the norm was toned down a bit. Refined. More sophisticated. The Epicurean style, it seems.
The fertile land brought wealth to Cyreneans. Apollo's blessings. Among them, a plant, is now extinct. This large stalk—called silphium—was so revered that people carried it in their pockets… in a sense. An image of the plant was depicted on Cyrene´s coins, which was fitting since it was the centerpiece of the economy. Even in Simon's time.
It brought a rich flavor to food, and cured many ailments of the body. But this gift from the deities was cherished for a more important reason. It was primarily valued as an herbal contraceptive... and in large "doses" as an abortifacient.
Strange that Simon was grabbed, though. What made him stand out? Was it a jingle in his pocket? Or his healthy, Cyrenean physique? The soldiers were cruel. Something about him was meant to add humiliation to the King of Jews. Whatever it was, Simon was about to become an unwitting accomplice in the termination of an innocent life.
Like the Simons of the world who journey by Faith away from the gifts of false gods, we too have this hope that we're on a road headed toward some far off place called the New Jerusalem. And there, some day, we will meet a Man who says He is our brother… a brother who claims equality with God. Do we forget that the path must first skirt around the walls of the old Jerusalem where society discards its outcasts?
It´s on that road that we find ourselves. Right now. Today. That´s because Golgotha is the present. Like Simon, we may soon be asked by the God-less to pick up the cost of abortion. Abortion. Isn´t that the ridding—the casting out—of what society fears? Sure it is. And it isn´t free.
See, for a society that aborts and contracepts… well, things can get expensive. There´s all that silphium that must be produced and distributed. And then there´s those costly side-effects. Fortunately we have our chosen deities who make sure it remains engraved in our economy. And legal. Oh, and safe, too. The deities ask only two things in return. First, that we refer to it as "medicine." And second, that we don´t ask what it will do to future generations.
But we who walk by Faith know it for what it is: the destroyer of life, the poison of families, and the harm of all women. Now, we watch as it brings our nation to a halt. We were warned about this. In fact, Simon helped us hear the warning that day he shared in the Passion.
It´s an oracle for us all. A harsh saying. Especially for ears seduced by Apollo´s voice, which is sweet and convincing. Jesus´ words are hard—but Truth. They´re Immortal as well.
"Daughters of Jerusalem," Jesus says right after Simon arrives (Luke 23:28), "do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, 'Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.'"
Barren women? Wombs that don´t bear children? Hearing this, Simon´s brain must´ve rattled. He knew the earth. He knew that fertility was a blessing. But he also knew that men make trade of the things of the earth. It´s how economies are created. How commodities take on value. And how an herb used for food costs less than an herb used to cause sterility in women. Cyrene and the silphium on the coin in Simon´s pocket were a prototype of, well, us.
As the wood of the cross jarred Simon´s thinking, it shakes our world too. Sooner (or later) we figure it out: Jesus´ words speak to all nations, and for all time. We figure something else out, too: false gods deceive. We were supposed to be happy with wombs that didn't bear children. Breasts weren't supposed to nourish. It was all supposed to be about a comfortable, pleasant life. And the silphium of our era was supposed to make the world right. Using it, even the cosmos would be pleased. The globe would remain undisturbed, sustaining, cool and without anger. All´s we had to do was cast away the burden… separate out that which pleases from that which discomforts. It´s the language of ancient, dead, pagan cultures, and we´ve learned it well: Happy are those who accept the gifts of gods, and in return, surrender the fruit of the womb.
But what have we done since Calvary?!
In our selfishness and fear, we turned away from the True Prophet… from Truth Himself… who speaks of the power that´s within each and every mere mortal. It´s a power Apollo hates. The power to reproduce. The power to nourish. The power of fatherhood and motherhood. Especially motherhood! Now, our sisters weep. And Jesus, bleeding and beaten, calls out to us one last time, warning us that our voluntary barrenness is our shame.
"At that time," Jesus goes on, still gasping for each cherished breath, "people will say to the mountains, 'Fall upon us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!"
Why would a man on the way to His death waste His words?
Perhaps because he loves us. Especially the wounded. The weeping women reminded Him of the future—a time when secret shame and private guilt… and the cries of broken-hearted mothers… would echo back to Him and His purpose.
The Daughters of Jerusalem cried for us that day when Simon let Jesus speak. At least that must be our hope. Like Simon, they heard the way out. With a question, this oracle from the Prophet of prophets is presented in full. It's the solution to our problem. The answer to the riddle. Jesus simply wants us to wonder—for His next words provide a clue:
"For if these things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
The soldiers must have laughed: this bleeding, dehydrated outcast must be going insane!
But the question gave Simon something to ponder as he struggled up the hill of death. He would have known what happens when wood dries out. He was the agrarian. But it was all becoming so painful. The prophecy… the question… the cross…. Simon was sharing in the torment by now. If only we could hear the private words spoken that day between a man who was seeking his God, and the God he was finding.
I'll show you what will happen to the wood, Jesus said quietly while Simon dragged it along. Stay with Me, all the way to the end.
Jesus loved Simon, and the weeping women. And us. He would not put forth the question—especially after such a haunting oracle—then abandon His sad, hurting followers without answering.
This hill doesn't have to crush you, He would tell them. I will conquer this hill, and all the mounds of death. Stay until the end, and then you will see me on my cross… lifted up… like a tree.
His skin… the bark… was already torn. His cramping limbs would soon be nailed down.
Stay… just a little longer. They know very little about this wood I'm talking about. Every fiber of my body will be drained out, and you´ll hear Me say "I thirst" to prove it. Don´t hide. Just watch.
Simon would watch. He was about to witness everything in the natural world line up and point directly at an event that would forever shake the cosmos. It was God´s true Gift to the world… planted on a hill of discarded lives… to redeem us all. The Tree of Life.
Then, as if to prove that this couldn´t be real, all the forces of Hades and evil and death—they all lined up as well. As decreed by the powers of those who govern like cowards and liars, a soldier was told to raise his spear. It was pushed up… from that dark, dark place where all the hatred of Life has ever been stored… and into the heart of a son.
As mothers gasped, He was opened up. Water and blood flowed. He was... empty.
We know this mixture. It hasn´t stopped flowing since the day Simon met Jesus. It´s a sparkling river now, according to Revelation (ch. 22)... the Fountain of Life, at the very center of Heaven where followers of false gods and lovers of deceit are forever banned from polluting it. The Daughters of Jerusalem, and all of Jesus' sisters, thirst for it more than men can ever imagine.
Unwittingly, we've let our sisters be drained by contraceptives and abortions, making them barren, sterile objects. Like Rachel in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:15), they've cried themselves dry. If we ever get to the river, the Simons of the world must step aside to let them have the first drink.
-----The above is used with the author's permission from the book Simon and My Sisters by Len Gutmann, contributing writer for Catholic Online. Len lives in the Detroit area. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and is active in his parish's pro-life group. A carpenter and the father of four, he writes with the support of his wife, and at the behest of JPII's call to work for the new evangelization.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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