An interesting and often overlooked aspect of the Gospel is the mention of individuals whom we know little about but find squarely placed in the middle of the divine drama. In the Gospel of Mark 14:1-15:47, we see such a person, Simon of Cyrene.
Who was this Simon? We don't have much information to go on, but we do know that he was a passer-by from another country. Did he really understand what was going on in Jerusalem that day when he saw Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha? Suddenly, those standing around compelled this Simon, who was most likely just living another day, to carry the cross of Christ.
Simon of Cyrene becomes a living illustration of the tremendous opportunity that God has given to all humanity, the chance to participate in the cross for the redemption of the world.
Most people understand that Jesus suffered, died and rose from the dead for us, but how many people understand that he has also invited us to participate with him in his redemptive work?
God's goal for us is that we would be completely formed to the image of his son, Jesus Christ. God is love, but not the kind of love that we speak of at the popular level. God's love is not just a feeling, emotion or sentimental thought. God's kind of love is complete self-donation, a total pouring out and emptying of self for his beloved. It is this love of the Trinity that God is calling us to.
God desires that all humanity would be gathered into the family of God and raised to the dignity of adopted sons and daughters to participate in the love and life of the Trinity, then live this life on a daily basis.
Being conformed to the image of Christ is not a matter of objective studying, but it is a vocation, "come follow me." God in his infinite wisdom has made it possible to "follow him" and be conformed to his image and likeness by allowing us to participate in his passion and resurrection. The Apostle St. Paul understood this when he said, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Colossians 1:24).
To say that we are Christians means more than "we go to church every week", or " I believe a set of determined doctrines". To be a Christian is to be united with Christ and fully participate with him in every aspect of his mission. St. Paul said, "we are...fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (Rom 8:17-18).
Pope John Paul II said in his Apostolic Letter, On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, "In the cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed" (no. 29). In other words, your suffering, your cross if joined to Christ, has redemptive power. His Holiness goes on to say, "the springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness. Those who share in the sufferings of Christ preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world's Redemption, and can share this treasure with others" (no. 27).
The example of Simon the Cyrene reveals that we have a real participation in the cross, if we choose to accept it. Jesus stated clearly, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" and "whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Mark 8:34; Luke 14:27).
As we are now about to enter the passion week of Christ, will you say, "Yes" to your cross and join yourself with Christ? If so, you will experience what the love of the Trinity is all about. Empty yourself for others as he emptied himself for you and you will be on your way to being conformed to his image.
Like Simon the Cyrene, you may feel like you're only a passer-by in the drama of salvation history, the unlikely person. But today you can move from being a passer-by to a participant. Pick up your cross and follow Jesus.
A couple of things to do:
1. Spend some time meditating on the cross in your life. Write down a description of your cross on a piece of paper and make preparation to join your cross with Christ on Good Friday. Good Friday will be the day you have the opportunity to venerate the cross and share in his sufferings.
2. Carry a small cross or holy card in your pocket or purse as a reminder that you have a cross to carry. When you struggle, take it out and spend a moment in prayer.