Jesus has been brutally scourged. He has barely survived the merciless lashes. Now he walks toward Golgotha in extreme pain, condemned to die on a cross, carrying the crossbeam on his shoulders. The distance to Golgotha is short, yet each step seems the last. Jesus can barely advance.
Along the Via Dolorosa, two people help Jesus. One is mentioned in Scripture; we know about the other through tradition.
The former, a man named Simon from the distant city of Cyrene, is forced to help Jesus carry his cross (Mathew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26).
To carry someone else’s cross is not easy, but Simon has no choice. Who would dare oppose the Roman soldiers, especially when they drive three convicts to crucify them outside the city walls? Simon is repulsed by the bloody crossbeam he now must bear upon his own shoulders. He is afraid of the soldiers who press him to advance swiftly. He is ashamed as he feels the stares of the curious crowd that has come to witness the pathetic procession.
There are also many women following Jesus, mourning and lamenting (Luke 23:27). Among them — we know this through tradition — one is moved to the extreme. She cannot remain idle. Her sorrow for Jesus is so deep, her love so immense, that she cares little about the Romans. She dashes toward the Master!
Jesus can barely see. Blood bursts from his forehead, wounded by the painful thorns of his crown, and drips into his eyes, blinding him. Blood drains also from his nose after the beating from his executioners. He tastes the salt of blood and sweat. Suddenly, he stops — he just can’t go on.
Then he feels a linen cloth tenderly wiping his face. It is a relief to open his eyes without blood in them, if only for an instant. Jesus sees the loving face of a woman, from whose eyes teardrops roll to the ground — the perfect tears of love.
This valiant and loving woman is Veronica. According to one tradition, her name means “true portrait,” because when the Romans rip Jesus away from her, the face of the Divine Master is imprinted on her cloth.
To help the one who suffers under duress, or out of empathy? To bear another’s cross because we have no choice, or because of love? Simon of Cyrene and Veronica present two options so common in our lives. Faced with the pain of someone close to us who is bearing a cross, it is our choice — and only ours — to act like Simon or to follow Veronica’s example.
Helping someone like Simon did will make us feel uncomfortable and leave our hearts empty. Aiding the one who suffers like Veronica did will certainly be painful. It has to, if we do so out of mercy. Yet we will be rewarded when we walk away, bearing the face of the Divine Master imprinted on our heart.
Be passionate about our faith!
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - April 2020