Thursday, 22 March 2018

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 37:
Lichfield 5: Simon

‘Simon’ … Station 5 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In my meditations and reflections in Lent this year, I am being guided by the Stations of the Cross from three locations. The idea for this series of morning Lenten meditations came from reading about Peter Walker’s new exhibition, ‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which opened in Lichfield Cathedral last month and continues until the end of Lent.

Throughout Lent, my meditations each morning are inspired by three sets of Stations of the Cross that I have found either inspiring or unusual. They are the stations in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, at Saint John’s Well on a mountainside near Millstreet, Co Cork, and in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield.

In my meditations, I am drawing on portions of the Stabat Mater, the 12th century hymn of the Crucifixion (‘At the cross her station keeping’) attributed to the Franciscan poet Jacopone da Todi. Some prayers are traditional, some are from the Book of Common Prayer, and other meditations and prayers are by Canon Frank Logue and the Revd Victoria Logue of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

Lichfield 5: ‘Simon’

For these last two weeks in Lent, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield. Since the age of 19, I have regarded this chapel as my spiritual home.

The Fifth Station in the Stations of the Cross has a traditional description such as ‘Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross.’ But in the Fifth Station in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, instead of a traditional full description, there is one simple word in plain capital letters: ‘Simon.’

Simon of Cyrene is mentioned in three of the four Gospels as the man forced by the Roman soldiers to help Jesus carry his cross. He was from Cyrene in north Africa. But was he a black African, or was he like so many others there who were of Greek, Roman or Jewish descent?

Whether Simon was a Jew or a Gentile is perhaps irrelevant. His action reminds me of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations,’ an honour used to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis. The term originates with the concept of righteous gentiles, a term used in rabbinic literature to describe non-Jews (ger toshav) who abide by the Seven Laws of Noah.

The Righteous are defined as non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Only a Jewish party can make a nomination. Helping a family member or a Jew convert to Christianity is not a criterion for recognition. Assistance has to be repeated and substantial, and it has to be given without any expected financial gain.

The largest number of Righteous is from Poland (6,706). Mary Elizabeth Elmes (1908-2002) from Cork was the first Irish person to be honoured among the Righteous by Yad Vashem. She saved at least 200 Jewish children under the age of 12 by smuggling them over the border between France and Spain in the boot of her car. There is also an application for another Irish person, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, who rescued 6,500 Prisoners of War and Jews in Rome.

The Righteous are honoured with a feast day in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church in the US (16 July), and a Righteous from Italy, Edward Focherini, was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 2013.

From Stabat Mater:

Jesus Christ, crucified, have mercy on us!
Is there one who would not weep
Whelmed in miseries so deep
Christ’s dear Mother to Behold?

Meditation:

Stranger. Neighbour. Friend.
Simon takes up your cross. In so doing takes up his own.
Another innocent man joins the procession to Calvary.

Prayers:

Suffering Servant, beaten beyond human semblance, through the Good Samaritan you taught us that everyone in need is our neighbour. Help us to follow in your way of love that we do not need be compelled to take up the cross of another when they cannot bear their burdens alone. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our crucified Lord, the King of Glory, the King of Peace. Amen.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.
Because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world.

Jesus, the soldiers are becoming impatient. This is taking longer than they wanted it to. They are afraid you will not make it to the hill where you will be crucified. As you grow weaker, they grab a man out of the crowd and make him help you carry your cross. He was just watching what was happening, but all of a sudden he is helping you carry your cross.

A prayer before walking to the next station:

Holy God,
Holy and mighty, Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.

Tomorrow: ‘Veronica’ … Station 6 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

Yesterday’s reflection

A memorial beside the Remuh Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter in Kraków to Jan Karski (1914-2000), who reported to the allies on the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the extermination camps (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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