Message of the Sorrowful Mysteries – Jesus Carries the Cross

Pilate had tried repeatedly to release Jesus without offending the Jews. However, all was in vain; his last efforts were answered by their shouts that they had no king but Caesar, and that anyone that made himself king was not a friend of Caesar. Pilate feared he might be reported to the emperor as favouring rebellious elements among the people, and that would have meant the end of his career. So political expediency decided the case and Jesus was condemned to death.

The official act of condemnation was, according to Roman law, very brief. Sitting upon his official chair, the judge pronounced the sentence upon the accused standing before him in the words “You shall be crucified,” and turning to the prisoner’s guard he continued, “Soldier, go and get the cross ready.” The sentence was carried out immediately. The cross was brought forward and given to the condemned to carry, and the procession to the place of execution began to move. In front of it, on horseback rode the Roman centurion, behind him walked a soldier with a tablet on which was written the crime because of which the condemned suffered the death penalty; then came the condemned carrying the cross, surrounded by four soldiers and followed by a crowd of people, that was swelled by newcomers as the procession moved on through the most frequented streets of the city. Exactly the same procedure was followed in the case of Jesus. The commotion caused by His condemnation and the crowd accompanying Him must have been extraordinarily great, because He had been known throughout the country; moreover, it was Paschal-tide, with thousands of pilgrims in the city, and it was a triple execution, since two criminals were to suffer the same penalty. Let us now follow Jesus on His sorrowful way of the cross.

It would have been strenuous work for a very robust man to carry a heavy cross over the streets of Jerusalem, roughly paved, uneven, dusty, first descending for a little while and then rising towards the hill of the crucifixion. The distance was about one mile. But Jesus had been extremely weakened by the terrible events of the preceding night and the early morning. He had suffered the agony in the garden, had been cruelly treated by the soldiery during the hours of the night, had gone through the ordeal of trials before the high priests and Pilate, had been scourged and crowned with thorns. He needed rest and care, but instead He now must carry the heavy cross. What excruciating pain every step must have caused by the cross dragging behind Him on the ground, jerking up and down on the cobble stones, striking against the crown of thorns as He staggered on in a daze of utter exhaustion. His soul is tormented by the disgrace of the penalty. People look at Him in amazement; He, the famous Teacher and Miracle Worker, now exposed as an imposter and brought to His deserved punishment; the Pharisees and doctors of the law are conspicuous in the procession with triumphant mien and bearing, and the presence of the two criminals would suggest that Jesus was one like them. Jesus’ way of the cross is the way of unspeakable suffering; His body is racked by pain, His soul steeped in agony.

Yet it is not the endurance of pain as such that brought us salvation but the manner in which Jesus suffered. He had entered the world with the words of the psalmist in His mind, “Behold I come to do Your Will,” and this attitude He renewed throughout His life, particularly during His agony in the garden when He prayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to You. Remove this chalice from Me; but not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). It had not been the Father’s will to remove this cup of suffering and so He drinks it to its dregs; yet it remains for Him the Father’s cup. “The chalice which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).

Because it was His Father’s Will, Jesus suffered without complaining. It would be unworthy of Him, the Son of God and Redeemer of the world, to show signs of unwillingness, discontent and weakness whilst doing the things willed by the Father and performing the greatest act of His life, in fact, the greatest the world has ever witnessed.

However, suffering resignedly does not mean suffering in a spirit of cynicism or insensibility; that would ill accord with the humble Jesus. No, He suffers like a man that feels the pain of the cross in all its bitterness and gratefully accepts any relief or consolation offered Him. In fact, since He suffers as the Head of the human race, He eagerly desires such manifestations of sympathy and acts of charity, knowing that the members of His Mystical Body must have a share in His sufferings, if they are to have a share in the blessings of the Passion. The sacred writers record the kind acts of Simon of Cyrene and the compassion of the holy women; tradition has added the meeting of Jesus with His Holy Mother and the charitable act of Saint Veronica.

There were some pious women in the crowd accompanying Jesus; they were friends of Jesus, convinced of His innocence; all they could do was to give expression to their grief through tears and lamentations. Jesus rewards them by a warning that points to the real cause of His sufferings and the future punishment of the ungrateful city, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, days shall come wherein they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck.’ Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us’. For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:28-31)

Simon the Cyrenean was forced to help Jesus carry the cross, because the soldiers feared Jesus might not be strong enough to reach the top of the hill. It is with reluctance that Simon begins this act of charity, but soon this reluctance changes into the realization that he has received the greatest favour of his life. In all probability, he received the grace of faith in Jesus, resulting in a holy life and zealous work in the young Christian Church. Most likely, also, his sons, Rufus and Alexander, became prominent members of the early Church. And what must have been the joy of Simon on Easter day when he heard of the resurrection of Jesus, and throughout his life, as he saw the Church of Christ spreading among Jews and Gentiles. But the climax of his joy will come when, on the day of judgement, he will behold this cross of Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven in resplendent light as the symbol of Christ’s final victory.

The fourth station of the way of the cross records the meeting of Jesus with His Mother. Certain it is that Mary followed the procession, for we find her in the end standing beneath the cross. So it is most probable that somewhere on the way to Calvary she managed to get so near to Jesus as to be able to speak to Him. However, words were not needed; their tearful eyes met and they revealed to each other the sentiments of their hearts, unwavering submission to the will of the Father, love unto death, and that is, for both, the greatest comfort and consolation.

The sixth station of the popular way of the cross recalls the deed of Veronica. Courageously this pious woman pushes through the crowd and the guard of soldiers to offer Jesus a towel to wipe His face. By this act, she publicly proclaimed her love for Jesus as well as her disapproval of the way in which He was treated. Jesus showed His appreciation of this kind deed by leaving on the towel the impression of His sacred face. Thus, Jesus will always reward even the least manifestation of sympathy and love for Him by impressing upon the soul a deeper understanding of His crucified love.

The life of the Christian has been called a way of the cross and rightly so. As another Christ the Christian must follow in the footsteps of His Divine Master; Jesus Himself has expressly demanded it, making the carrying of the cross the indispensable condition for discipleship, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

The Christian’s cross consists in the observance of the commandments. The very fact that most of the commandment are given in the negative form, “You shall not,” is evidence that human nature in its present state is inclined to do precisely the thing that is forbidden. The further fact that the threat of punishment is added to the transgression and that the promise of reward is added to their observance, points to the difficulty of their observance. The same holds for the duties of each one’s state of life. It is this inherent difficulty which makes the Christian life a way of the cross.

Moreover, God may and commonly does add sufferings not necessarily connected with either the commandments or the duties of one’s state of life. These are the manifold tribulations that fall to the lot of men, sickness and disease, the death of loved ones, misfortune and poverty, dissensions and enmities, unavoidable yet trying associations, earthquakes, floods, wars, persecutions, things of which our times have seen an overabundance. The Christian cannot keep the cross out of his life. Whether or not it will be a blessing for him depends upon the attitude which he takes towards it.

Jesus is our divine teacher and Model in all things and therefore most emphatically in so important a phase of the Christian life as is suffering. The Christian’s attitude must be that of Christ. Hence he must learn from Jesus to carry his cross with full submission to the will of our Heavenly Father and thus without complaining. The Father has prepared for His children the cup of suffering; it will be a chalice of salvation if drunk with the sentiments of the child, that trust in the Father as knowing best what is good for us. Let us carry the cross humbly, not presuming on our strength, but seeking strength at the fountains of the Saviour, in His sacred wounds. The greater the tribulations the more insistent must be our prayer, “Passion of Christ, strengthen me.” But the most ideal and perfect attitude towards the cross is that of love. The lover of Christ will unite himself with the divine cross-bearer with the intention of bringing Him relief and rendering to Him services comparable to those of Simon and Veronica; he will make the intentions of Jesus his own and offer up his crosses for the same purposes for which Jesus suffered. Meditation on the sufferings of Christ inflamed the saints with love of the cross; it will do the same for us.

This mystery of the Rosary, then, if understood and practised, will stop the flight from the cross and bring the Christian to an ever-increasing sense of duty and loving submission to the will of God in all circumstances. It will convince us that the cross is the only way to atone for our sins and the sins of the world, to implore the grace of conversion for sinners. The cross is the only way to Christian perfection and heavenly glory. And our sorrowful Mother will rejoice to see her children assume more and more the likeness of her crucified Son.

– from Message of the Rosary – Sorrowful Mysteries, by Father Aloysius Biskupek, S.V.D.