This week, we will continue our Lenten journey by reflecting on the fourth, fifth, and sixth Stations of the Cross. Each of these three stations include an encounter between Jesus and another person when Jesus is profoundly vulnerable, thereby increasing the relational intimacy between them. They also illustrate the larger picture of the interdependence human beings have with each other as we all navigate through the trials of life together. Let’s take a closer look.

The Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother

This is one of the stations that is not explicitly found in Scripture. However, the Gospel of John places the Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross during the crucifixion, so it is safe to assume she remained as close to Jesus as the crowds would allow from the beginning of His Passion to the end. Additionally, it is difficult to imagine any mother not being with her child while enduring such great and unjust suffering.

Recall when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus as an infant in the temple, Simeon prophesied to Mary, “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also,” (Lk 2:35). At the time, Mary could not have possibly understood the depth of this prophecy, but by the time she encountered Jesus here on the way to Calvary, she felt the immensity of the piercing pain in her soul at its fullness. Here was her Son, whom she had carried and nurtured in her womb for nine months and whom she had raised with her husband into adulthood. He had also begun His public ministry through her intercession with His first miracle for the couple at Cana. The bond of love between this particular mother and Son was like no other, because it had an element of the divine like no other. For a mother to see her child in this state would be unbearable. No doubt she would have wanted nothing more than to hold Him and kiss Him like she did when He was hurt as a child. Likewise, He would have wanted nothing more than to crawl into His mother’s arms, rather than to move any further on this journey of physical, emotional, and spiritual anguish. However, there would be no consolation found in this moment, as they were both acutely aware that the work of redemption needed to be completed. While Mary could not hold Jesus, the gaze of love they were able to exchange in this blessed moment was enough to provide the strength and encouragement for them both to continue. Who are the people in your life, who, while they cannot help you directly, offer you their love and support simply with their presence as you stagger on? Do you offer that same love and support for others?

The Fifth Station: Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross

This station does appear explicitly in Scripture: Mark 15:21. From what we can tell, Simon had no particular interest in the scene taking place in Jerusalem that day. He was from another country (Cyrene, Libya) just passing through with his two sons. He did not know Jesus, nor anyone else in the crowd. Mark also tells us he was “compelled” to carry Jesus’ cross, implying that he was perhaps at least a little bit resistant to getting involved in these events. He would have known nothing about the innocence or guilt of the man, nor just how unjust was the suffering He was enduring. He would have only been able to see that the man was suffering enough to no longer be able to carry His own cross and desperately needed help. Regardless of whether he was forced to do so, it would be hard to not have compassion for this vulnerable and suffering man on a human-to-human level. Like Simon, without knowing every specific detail of their situations, we see people suffering every day and are called to have a heart open to compassion for them. Unlike Mary, who could do nothing to alleviate her Son’s pain, Simon shows us that sometimes, we can do concrete things to alleviate some of the burden that people carry. We can apply the Simon principle on a larger scale when we talk about ways in which we can help the homeless, immigrants, the elderly, or pregnant mothers in need. We can also apply it in our closer relationships when we help each other in various ministries, bring one another home cooked meals, or offer our assistance with a difficult problem. Jesus’ part in this scene shows us that we ought to humble ourselves and accept help when it is offered to us. Better yet, if we are able, we should ask for help before someone is compelled, like Simon, to help. We were not meant to carry our crosses alone. We live in an inter-connected human family that calls for vulnerability and compassion amongst its members. How can you be more like Simon with others to help them tangibly carry their crosses? How can you be more like Jesus to allow others to help you carry yours?

Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

Here we meet Veronica, who is also not mentioned specifically in Scripture, yet it is easy to imagine an encounter like this occurring on the road to Calvary. Unlike Simon, who was just passing through, Veronica had been present throughout the ordeal and was keenly aware of the injustice of it all. She had seen Jesus beaten by the soldiers, mocked and spit on by the crowds, and his wounded and broken body stumble along the path. Now that Simon was carrying the cross, Veronica could see the wound on Jesus’ shoulder that caused His deepest pain. She also saw that He was covered in blood, sweat, dirt, and spit and had nothing but compassion for Him. Also, unlike Simon, there was not much Veronica could offer in terms of easing the weight of His physical burdens. She probably felt helpless in this moment. When Jesus encountered her on the road, all she had to offer Him was a simple gesture of sacrificial love – wiping His beaten, bloody, and dirty face with her veil, a piece of her own clothing. Tradition holds, that in return for her gesture of love, Jesus left an icon of His face behind on her veil as a relic. Imagine this same scene from Jesus’ perspective. You are surrounded by people shouting at you, beating you, and jeering at you. You are in pain from the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet. You are completely innocent of any wrongdoing, but the crowds still delight in your suffering. In the chaos, you may even be confused, not seeing the road ahead of you, just knowing you must keep moving forward through the resistance. Then, out of the angry and chaotic crowd, emerges a soft and kind face. Rather than a scowl, she has a look of love and compassion in her eyes as she looks straight into your soul and she wipes your face with the very clothes she is wearing. She is not afraid of going against the mob to offer this act of love, perhaps at some risk to herself, yet she does it without hesitation. This is the self-sacrificial love to which we are all called. Often times, it is not the grandiose gestures of help to which we are called, but rather the small and simple acts of love that allow the vulnerable people in our lives to know they are not alone on their journey through the chaos. The smallest act of love you can offer a person in any given moment, whether you realize it or not, may be just the act that will give them the added sustenance they need to carry on. How can you increase your simple, loving actions?

Next week, we’ll continue our reflections on the Way of the Cross with the seventh through tenth stations.