“As they were marching out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name;
this man they compelled to carry his cross.” –Matthew 27:32
Throughout my missionary year at Christ in the City, I found myself pondering Simon the Cyrene often in prayer. His story has always intrigued me—since Scripture tells us very little about him, I have always enjoyed imagining the narrative of his story.
He was a simple man coming in from the country, passing seemingly by chance. Maybe he was initially hesitant to take up the cross of a man who had been deemed a criminal—perhaps he was even resentful that he had been dragged into the situation.
When I picture Simon first lifting the Cross beside Jesus, I see my own humanity in him. I see Simon at war between his natural response of compassion to a suffering man and his reluctance to accept this suffering as his own. I see him watching Jesus as His lungs heave and His body stumbles under the weight of the Cross, and I imagine Simon’s heart slowly softening. Expanding.
I see him shift his body, trying to relieve more of the burden. I see his sympathy turn to awe—perhaps even adoration— as he watches Jesus press on without complaint, humbly enduring every insult spat at Him. Surely the wood of the Cross must have splintered both their backs as they struggled toward Calvary together.
Although Simon’s sufferings were undoubtedly small, they were united to the Passion of Jesus in a way that no other man can claim. With every mark of the Cross on his body, Simon came to resemble Christ a little more closely. He did not only support the weight of the Cross but the body of Jesus with his own, bearing Christ’s blood in his own wounds. I have to believe that whether Simon realized who Jesus was or not at the time, he was not so resistant to grace as to leave that day an unchanged man.
One day as I was praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel, a very specific image came into my mind. It was a heart very similar to the Sacred Heart of Jesus yet clearly distinct. In place of the traditional crown of thorns, there were shards of wood protruding from the heart to form the loose shape of a crown. I came to understand it as the heart of Simon—crowned in splinters from the wood of the Cross. And I knew that Christ was asking me to let it by my own heart, too.
Ever so gently, He asked me, Will you accept? Will you let your heart be pierced by the weight of love?
To bear the Cross with another—this invitation is sacred. When we encounter our brothers and sisters in their suffering, Jesus extends this same invitation to each one of us. As a CIC missionary, I found Christ on the road to Calvary every day as we walked the streets. He came to me in our friends, inviting me to share in their daily crosses of homelessness, trauma, and uncertainty. I felt so deeply honored every time that our friends would entrust a bit of their burdens to me. I knew these were none other than pieces of Christ’s own Cross, and they were to be reverenced. But I have to be honest—this call scared me.
We received extensive street ministry training and formation at the beginning of the year, but I quickly realized that entering into the deep grit of other’s lives doesn’t always follow the manual. Suddenly, St. Paul’s mandate in Galatians to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ was not a mere abstract ideal—it was a real, concrete choice I had to make amidst situations I didn’t always know how to handle.
It meant calling 911 when we found a friend in the throes of a medical crisis and trying my best to care for him while we waited for help. It meant sitting with a friend in the depths of grief or the aftermath of a relapse and not knowing exactly what to say but trying anyway. It meant accepting the real responsibility that love demands and taking the risk that, in my human weakness, I may fail people—but still promising to fight with all I have for their good.
As St. John Paul II reminds us in Love and Responsibility, “we must not forget that love for a human being must also contain certain elements of struggle. Struggle for the beloved human being, and his or her true good.” Simon the Cyrene reminds me that love is heavy. Sometimes the weight feels unbearable when I cannot take away the suffering of a dear friend or when I can’t stop doubting whether I made the right call in a tough situation. And this is where the struggle really kicks in— this toil for the good of the other will leave scars on our hearts and on our bodies.
Christ chose a very ordinary, imperfect man to walk with Him beneath the Cross—and we can be sure that when He calls us to do the same, He is there to make up for what we lack. Whose Simon is He calling you to be today? If you are willing to be splintered by the burden of love, you can trust that He will make it redemptive.
Maddie served as a yearlong missionary in 2018-2019. She is an incredible artist and enjoys painting, writing, playing music, and going for long runs outside.