As we continue our Lenten journey, let’s reflect on the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: the Carrying of the Cross.
When Jesus was sentenced to death by Pilate, he was made to carry his Cross—most likely a wooden cross beam weighing about 75–100 pounds, which would then be attached to a wooden pole already in the ground on Calvary. The Gospels and the Stations of the Cross remind us that, under this burden, Jesus, in his weakened condition, stumbled and fell several times. The synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that the soldiers pressed Simon of Cyrene into service to help Jesus carry his heavy burden.
There is another kind of heaviness that we can and must ascribe to the Cross—the kind of heaviness that we associate with words such as gravitas and profundity. As we teach the Good News of Jesus Christ, we can be tempted to always want to make faith formation fun. While I have nothing against fun, we must remember that, at the heart of the Gospel message, we encounter the Cross, an instrument of death and a heavy burden. And, while we don’t want to frighten the young people we teach with too many descriptions and visuals of the gruesomeness of crucifixion, we do need to teach them the gravitas of the Gospel message, which is that, in order to gain eternal life, we must die to our sinful selves.
Gravitas is defined as a solemn seriousness and reverence for a situation of profound gravity (heaviness). Our job as catechists is not to entertain but rather to engage. Young people are capable, at varying levels, of engaging with the profound. They need to know that Jesus entered into the brokenness of human life, experienced it fully, and triumphed over it. Only then will they be able to turn to Jesus in their own moments of brokenness—knowing that Jesus understands their pain—and place their faith in the Resurrection.
Discipleship—a life marked by selfless love—carries a burden or a heaviness. Jesus tells us that, if we hope to be his disciples, we must pick up our cross and follow him. This means more than having a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. (The phrase, “Everyone has a cross to bear,” tends to trivialize the gravitas of discipleship.) To pick up our cross and follow Jesus means to embrace the heaviness, or gravitas, of a life of discipleship by setting aside our own needs and putting the needs of others first. Simon of Cyrene is the perfect example of this.
Finally, this all may seem counterintuitive; none of us wants to carry a burden. The bottom line is that we are all burdened already by sin. I think of the ghost of Jacob Marley, weighed down by chains, asking Ebeneezer Scrooge, “Do you know the weight and length of the chain you bear yourself? It was as heavy and long as this seven Christmas-eves ago. You have labored on it since. ’Tis a ponderous chain!”
We can either be burdened by sin which weighs us down and leads to death, or we can embrace the burden of discipleship, a “yoke” (a wooden beam weighing up to 60 pounds) that Jesus says is light and easy and leads to new life! (Matthew 11:30)
This Lent, may we choose the heaviness of discipleship over the heaviness of sin!
Deepen your understanding of the Rosary by reading The Rosary: A Path into Prayer by Elizabeth M. Kelly and The Complete Rosary: A Guide to Praying the Mysteries by William G. Storey.