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The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus Carries the Cross

This post is by Brody Stewart, Verbum Marketing and Promotions Coordinator.

In classical art, we’re often presented with a familiar scene: Jesus, cross on his back, valiantly marches towards Calvary. Less commonly, we’ll see depictions of Simon the Cyrenian helping Jesus carry his cross. Only in a select few paintings will we see Simon carrying the cross for Jesus.

Has this confused anyone else?

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When we read the Gospel accounts of “The Way of the Cross,” we find that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention Simon the Cyrenian carrying Christ’s cross. It’s only in the gospel of John that Jesus reportedly carried the cross on his own.

On the surface this seems confusing. But looking deeper, it’s not difficult to see that both reports are part of the larger narrative. Christ carries his cross until he can go no further, at which point Simon the Cyrnenian is pressed into service. Chronologically, these events are reflected in St. John Paul II’s Scriptural Way of the Cross.

In preserving both halves of the narrative, Holy Mother Church offers us two spiritual lessons:

1. Jesus carries his cross, and calls us to imitate him.

As God of the universe, Jesus could have abandoned his salvific mission. Instead, he submitted himself to torture and death. Jesus never took the easy way out. In carrying his own cross, he models for us the perfect response to our own trials and temptations. He even goes so far as to tell us that “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27, NABRE). We can courageously carry our own crosses with the knowledge that the God-who-became-man carried his first.

Simon the Cyrenian Compelled to Carry the Cross with Jesus

Simon the Cyrenian Compelled to Carry the Cross with Jesus by Jacques Tissot, 1894

2. God is merciful, and sends us help in our distress

To quote the Psalmist, “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress” (Psalm 46:2). During Christ’s distresses, God did not spare his son this help: in the wilderness, angels were sent to minister to him (Mt 4:11); in the garden , an angel was sent to strengthen him (Lk. 22:43); and on the road to Calvary, Simon the Cyrenian was called to carry the cross for him (Mt. 27:32). If God offered this help to Jesus, how much more will he offer it to us—for whose sake Jesus came to save?

Just as Christ was helped by Simon the Cyrenian,  God uses his people to help us carry our crosses. Rather than relying on our own strength in times of trial, we can trust in God’s goodness and mercy.

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