When Life's Journey Is Not What You Expected It to Be

On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for Palm Sunday are: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 4:1-15:47. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.
Have you ever been traveling and things didn’t go according to your plan?  We’ve all experienced minor inconveniences like travel delays, missing reservations, or bad directions.  But have you ever had a trip go fantastically and catastrophically wrong?  If so, Simon of Cyrene might be your patron saint.

“Simon of Cyrene Helps Christ” by David O’Connell

We don’t know much about Simon, but it’s an understatement to say that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The Gospel writer says only that “they pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry [Jesus’] cross.”  Perhaps we should consider Simon’s story for a couple of moments–the story that the Gospel writer left out.

Simon was probably a pilgrim who visited Jerusalem for the Passover.  He traveled a long way (Cyrene was located in what is now Libya) and spent a lot of money to make this spiritual journey.  I am sure it involved a lot of planning and not a little risk.  So I can only imagine the hot mix of anger, fear, and resentment that Simon might have felt when his plans were upended violently and he was forced by random chance and Roman hands to become an unwilling participant in the unfolding drama of Jesus’ death.  I can almost hear Simon ask bitterly, “Why me?  Why the heck am I stuck with this man’s burden? Why do I deserve this?”  And then, just as abruptly as he appeared, Simon vanished from the Gospel narrative; we do not know what happened to him.

I think LGBT Catholics have a lot in common with Simon of Cyrene.  Most LGBT Catholics are born into the church, which means we are born into a faith community that doesn’t necessarily understand or accept us.  We are born into a faith community that is being pulled in two directions by those who affirm and those who reject LGBT rights.  It’s an uncomfortable position in which to find ourselves — a position that seems to demand everyday that we justify our identities, feelings, and relationships to our fellow Catholics.  I think that pressure to validate our existence and our rights is why so many LGBT people leave the church.  Similar to Simon, they ask, “Why me? Why am I stuck with the burden of other people’s ignorance and malice? Why do I deserve this?”  Hurt and frustrated, it’s understandable why some LGBT Catholics choose to leave.

However, just as Simon’s story didn’t end with his carrying Jesus’ cross, I don’t think the story of LGBT Catholics inevitably ends with a possible departure from the church–and it doesn’t even end if we decide to stay in the church. One of the things the Passion narrative teaches us is that the Christian calling is difficult and involves challenges not of our own choosing.  It sometimes makes us ask the “why me?” questions.

But to be able to experience the joys of the resurrection, one must follow Jesus through his suffering and death.  For LGBT Catholics, I think this might mean staying with the church and doing the hard work of education and bridge-building within Catholic institutions. It might mean suffering the burdens of other people’s ignorance and malice.  It’s not always fun or pretty, but through that effort, I believe we will experience some of the joy of Jesus’ resurrection by knowing that we are making the church a more inclusive and just place for all God’s children.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry

5 replies
  1. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    I agree with Frank and Jerry, and would add an observation – “the father of Alexander and Rufus” – the writer knew the names of Simon’s sons. Opens up all kinds of possibilities for imagination! 🙂

  2. Susanne M Cassidy
    Susanne M Cassidy says:

    My dear friend Matt,
    You’ve done it once again, excellent description of Simon the Cyrene, as always you have a way of making the Gospel come alive. Thank you, thank you. Have a Happy Easter

  3. Tom G.
    Tom G. says:

    Much of my prayer life has been spent looking for an answer to my very deep conflict: how to return to Catholicism after a nearly 30 year absence. I have spent several years investigating the Church from the margins, only to find that the Church is no longer the Church I left. Less mercy, less joy, constant judging and condemning, and a frustrating polarity that didn’t exist in my youth. Back during my growing up years in the 60’s and 70’s, everyone, it seemed, was all heady with the Holy Spirit in the wake of Vatican II. Boy did that change over the decades!

    Much of my conflict involved a dilemma. Do I come back to the RC Church? And if I do, how can I possibly be part of an organization that tells me my love is sinful, and that I am objectively disordered? I likened it to battering syndrome, where people, despite the rejection and abuse, come back for more. Well, I certainly would not let that happen to me!! Over the years, I have investigated the Episcopal Church and several independent Catholic intentional communities. I recently found an intentional community right here in my home state that tells me I am welcome, and I felt it would be the right thing to follow, what I thought was the Spirit’s call, to go down that road. Recently, though….just within the last few days of contemplating the Passion…, I had the insight that joining that other community just might be the easy way out. That choice is all about me and my own comfort zone. I started to question whether this is what the Lord is really asking of me or am I being led to the more difficult path, to bear a cross, somehow? Which choice would offer the more worthy road of a relationship of love with Jesus? I began to ask, “Could it be that I am being led back to the RC Church, after all?”

    Now today, I stumble across this blog post. Little did you know, Matthew, that I had been asking for a sign as to which road to follow for quite some time. This, along with a reading of St. Faustina’s diary, in which she describes converging on two roads (and the one with bolders, and obstacles, and difficult maneuvering was the one that ended in the beautiful garden, while the other beautiful road led to a precipice!),have hit me between the eyes! If I have ever run smack into the Holy Spirit knocking me on the head, it is now!

    I pray for the graces of courage and hope as I prepare to return to my RC family.

    Bless you Matthew, and thank you for such an insightful and alive post!


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