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