Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18
This is day 7 of the Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
For today’s meditation, let’s consider Simon of Cyrene.
Simon of Cyrene was a long way from home that day. Cyrene was a town in Africa, a former Greek colony, in the area we now call Lybia.
He had probably come to Jerusalem for the Passover. He may never have heard of Jesus before that day. It is almost certain that he had no desire to get involved in this execution, much less be forced to help a bleeding, dying man carry His cross to His crucifixion.
Roman soldiers had enormous power over the civilian population. They could arrest people on their own initiative, kill people who interfered with their duties, use people’s homes and provender to carry out their work and impress anyone they chose to work as free labor for them.
When Jesus said If someone forces you to go with them a mile, go with them two miles, He was referring to the practice of Roman soldiers. They impressed random bystanders into carrying their loads and functioning as their beasts of burden. It was not a volunteer position, and the person who was forced into labor was not paid.
That is what happened to Simon of Cyrene. He was evidently among the bystanders, watching the spectacle of three men, carrying the instruments of their execution to the place where they would die.
The excessive cruelty the Roman soldiers had heaped on Jesus was causing them trouble now. This man they had beaten was so weakened by loss of blood and the injuries they’d inflicted that He fell repeatedly while trying to carry his cross.
The Romans had a timetable. They were tasked with getting these three men on their crosses and dead before the Passover began that evening. The whole purpose of Jesus’ death was to spare their Governor the problems of an uprising. Breaking Jewish law by leaving these Jews hanging on their crosses alive after sundown might provoke the very uprising the Governor was trying to prevent.
They didn’t have time to dally with a dead man, walking on the way to His final execution, Who was too weak to get there.
The solution, for them at least, was simple. They grabbed a man at random, without knowing, as the authors of the Gospels did, his name, and forced him to carry the cross for Jesus.
Simon doubtless thought this was his unlucky day. Here he’d come to Jerusalem on pilgrimage like the good Jew he probably was. He’d brought his two sons, Rufus and Alexander, and most likely the rest of his family, as well. It was supposed to be a holy time; a time of rejoicing.
And here he was, forced to stand beside this sweaty, smelly, bleeding wretch of a man — this criminal — and lift the heavy cross onto his own shoulders and help the man carry it to his death.
And yet something unexpected must have happened that day. Because scripture indicates that Simon didn’t just walk away. This indignity he suffered didn’t just fade into part of the family lore about what happened to Dad when we went to Passover in Jerusalem a long time ago.
The Gospel authors knew him. They knew the names of his sons. There is a familiarity about the way they identify him that makes it clear that Simon of Cyrene’s interaction with the followers of Christ went on past that horrible morning when He helped the Son of God carry His cross to Golgotha.
This is satan’s hour, Jesus told His disciples. But even in this deepest darkness of the worst crime of our human history, the Light shone through. It touched the thief on the cross. It entered the soldier who confessed Him. And it evidently touched and stayed with Simon of Cyrene, as well.
It’s the same today.
Even in the deepest darkness of Christ crucified again in the persecution of His followers, the light of their witness, their fidelity, their awesome faith, shines through.
These people who, in the face of unbearable terror, refuse to convert away from Christ, refuse to recant and deny Him, are the Light, shining for all of us.
We need to set their light on a hill and let it shine so that it touches all of indifferent and callous humanity. Our first task as their brothers and sisters is to give their awesome witness to the faith the attention and respect that it deserves.
Pray for an end to the persecution, yes.
But in our praying we must pray also that their witness to the Truth is seen and known and honored in every church, before every Tabernacle and in every heart where Christ is worshipped around the world.
Even in the deepest darkness, the Light still shines.
Pray that we will have the eyes to see it, the courage to proclaim it.
Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 7. Please pray it and ask others to join you.
Glorious Saint Michael, guardian and defender of the Church of Jesus Christ, come to the assistance of His followers, against whom the powers of hell are unchained. Guard with special care our Holy Father, the Pope, and our bishops, priests, all our religious and lay people, and especially the children. Saint Michael, watch over us during life, defend us against the assaults of the demon,and assist us especially at the hour of death. Help us achieve the happiness of beholding God face to face for all eternity. Amen. Saint Michael, intercede for me with God in all my necessities, especially for the conversion of the world,that from pole to pole,dateline to dateline,all will call out Jesus' name. Obtain for me a favourable outcome in the matter I recommend to you. Mighty prince of the heavenly host, and victor over rebellious spirits, remember me for I am weak and sinful and so prone to pride and ambition. Be for me, I pray, my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty, and above all do not forsake me in my last struggle with the powers of evil.Amen.