The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus bearing His cross to Calvary

Anthony Zimmerman
March 18, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

We stand at the roadside with Mary as we contemplate Jesus bearing His cross to Calvary. With each step He takes, He gives us strength to take up our cross and follow after Him.

Christ had the power within Himself to simply escape suffering by spiritualizing His body, as he had done on Tabor while Moses and Elias and the three apostles stood by in astonishment. He didn't do that now. He must go before us to be our authentic Savior, one who can say to us: "I was there."

"For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:21-24).

My younger brother, Father Al, now departed, had an experience of extreme suffering after an operation, one that he could not forget. "I just couldn't stand it. It hurt catastrophically. It was beyond anything I could take, yet I had to take it." He got over it, and recovered. Thereafter he once said to me that he is no longer afraid of death. Why? The pain of death can't be worse than that, he said, so if he could bear the one, he should be able to take on the suffering of death as well. But as a matter of fact, he died apparently without pain some years later when his heart stopped at night and he didn't even ruffle the sheets.

Jesus did not balk when the soldiers thrust Him under the cross and commanded Him to get going on the way to His death. As Saint Cyril of Jerusalem told his catechumens:

"He was not killed by violence, he was not forced to give up his life. He was a willing sacrifice. Listen to his own words: 'I have the power to lay down my life and to take it up again.' Yes, he willingly submitted to his own passion. He took joy in his achievement, in his cross of victory he was glad and in the salvation of man he rejoiced" (Office of Readings, February 5).

The Gospels relate that Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus with His cross. Apparently the scourging and then the maltreatment by the soldiers had drained His strength. "And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him. And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross" (Mark 15:20-21). Saints and sinners are every day inspired by Simon, whether to march bravely or to stagger reluctantly, in the bloodied footprints of Jesus.

The Father sent Simon to assist Jesus, as He had sent an angel to strengthen Him in the Garden. The Father never lost sight of His Son and gave a kindly assist when the need was greatest. He never loses sight of us either.

Making the most of His weariness and pain, Jesus accepted it all as payment for our salvation. He had all of us in mind and was truly and consciously offering Himself for us, recalling each by face and name: For as Pope Pius XII wrote in the Encyclical The Mystical Body, Jesus saw us all in the in the beatific vision flooding into His created human soul:

"In that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love. O marvelous condescension of divine love for us! O inestimable dispensation of boundless charity! In the crib, on the Cross, in the unending glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church present before Him and united to Him in a much clearer and more loving manner than that of a mother who clasps her child to her breast, or than that with which a man knows and loves himself" (No. 75). We thank Him, then, for taking one difficult step after another, burdened by His share of the weight of the cross, for thinking of us and doing this for us.

When women of Jerusalem pitied Him on the way, He, in turn, pitied them for their own future: "And there followed him a great multitude of the people, and of women who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23:27-31).

The meaning appears to be this: If they do this to me who am innocent, all the more will they suffer who are guilty. Was He referring to the destruction of Jerusalem that would come some forty years later? Or to the end of the world? Or to all who remain in sin? At any rate, Jesus was fully intent on performing His mission as our Savior while on the way to the Hill of Calvary.

The Stations of the Cross commemorate a meeting between Jesus and His Mother. She who was soon to stand under the cross, likely let herself be seen on His way there, despite the rough soldiers and the jeering populace. No, she didn't stop Him. But her heart bled. And she wanted Him to know that. Jesus walked with new energy when He felt the support of His Mother.

The Veil of Veronica on which Christ is said to have imprinted an image of His face appears to be a genuine relic. It is another example of Christ's kindness and consideration shown during a time of great pain. That could not be done without effort. I remember myself shouting in anger and abusing others when in pain. Jesus held it all in and willingly, determinedly and generously offered His all for our salvation.

"And they offered him wine mingled with myrrh; but he did not take it" (Mark 15:23). Matthew writes that He tasted it, then gave it back without drinking it. It was a drug to dull pain, offered by kindly women. Jesus was not overcome by the pain. He overcame it, wrestled it down. He must drain the cup of God's displeasure with sin to the very end. And so He did by refusing the narcotic. Did Jesus look kindly at the women who had offered the narcotic, and then pray in gratitude for all those who care for the sick? He was meriting grace for the doctors, the nurses, the volunteers, the administrators, the spouses, the mothers and fathers who nurse the sick when they are in pain.

At last His Hour had arrived. He would be crucified. The Evangelists could not steel themselves to describe at length the ordeal of crucifixion, it being too horrible to contemplate. As Jesus stood in preparation while they stripped His garments, He prayed again the High Priestly Prayer for our salvation:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made...

"Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me. I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them."

He was ready now to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He will now pay the price that is required so that He can send the Holy Spirit to us and to the Church. For, as Pope John Paul II writes in the Encyclical on the Holy Spirit: "There is no sending of the Holy Spirit (after original sin) without the Cross and the Resurrection" (No. 24). Jesus waited to be nailed. He was ready.