The Fifth Station: St Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry His cross
When God lays a cross upon us, some misfortune, some unexpected burden, instead of thanking Him for this precious gift, too often we rebel against His will. We forget that our Saviour never sends a cross alone, but ever sweetens its bitterness, lightens its weight by His all-powerful grace. With reluctance, with unwillingness, Simon bears the cross of His Master. At first his spirit revolted against this injustice, his pride rebelled against this ignominy. But once he accepted with resignation, his soul was filled with heavenly sweetness, he felt not the weight of the heavy beams, he heeded not the jibes of the multitude but pressed on after His Master, proud to be His follower.
The Fourth Station: Jesus meets His Blessed Mother
To sensitive souls the pain they cause others is far worse than any sufferings they may endure themselves. They may have much to endure, but to see others in pain causes them deeper grief. Jesus and Mary meet. Alone He could have suffered with joy so that she, His dearest Mother, might have been spared the agony of seeing all He must endure. With one look of pity Jesus reads the anguish of that cruelly lacerated heart; with one long gaze of infinite love and pity Mary sees the depth of her Son’s woe, His long hours of torture, His utter weariness, His sorrow, His grief, His anguish. May she not help Him? At least lift for one moment that cross?
The Third Station of the Cross: Jesus falls for the first time
Bravely has our Lord borne the galling weight of His cross; bravely has He struggled on, tottering and stumbling, longing for a moment’s rest, yearning for a respite however short. But rest He will not, that He may teach us how unfalteringly we must press on to our goal. But nature will have its way. His sight grows dim; His strength fails and with a crash our Saviour lies extended on the ground. Oh! if you have not hearts of stone let Him lie even thus, poor, crushed and broken thing. If you have but one spark of compassion left, one tender feeling of sympathy urge Him not on awhile, so spent, so weary. On a poor maimed brute you have pity – think of the sorrow of Him extended there.
Away from the palace now a sad procession is winding. On the faces of the multitude a fiendish joy is written, they have had their wish and now issue forth to glut their eyes on the dying struggles of the suffering innocent One. Painfully He is toiling up the long narrow street, narrower still from the crowds that line the way; each step is agony, each yard of ground He covers a fresh martyrdom of ever increasing suffering. With a refinement of cruelty His enemies have placed upon His shoulders the heavy, rough beams which will be His last painful resting place.
Cruelly the heavy beam weighs upon His mangled flesh and cuts and chafes a long, raw sore deep to the very bone.
We are now over half way through Lent. At this stage it is easy for our dedication to wane somewhat; the early enthusiasm of Ash Wednesday is behind us; the solemnity and beauty of Holy Week is still a few weeks away.
This seems to be an appropriate time to introduce the Stations of the Cross based on the writings of Fr Doyle. For each of the next 14 days a meditation from his writings on one of the Stations will be posted on the site, normally without the usual daily comment. The images accompanying these meditations are the images of the Stations in St Raphael’s Church in Surrey, England (http://www.straphael.org.uk) and are used with the kind permission of the parish.
Around the judgement seat are grouped a motley crowd. Men and women of every rank, the high-born Jewish maiden, the rough Samaritan woman; haughty Scribes and proud Pharisees mingle with the common loafer of the great city. Hatred has united them all for one common object; hatred of One Who ever loves them and to their wild fury has only opposed acts of gentle kindness. A mighty scream goes up, a scream of fierce rage and angry fury, such a sound as only could be drawn from the very depths of hell. “Death to Him! Death to the false prophet!”. He has spent His life among you doing good – Let Him die! He has healed your sick, given strength to the palsied, sight to your blind – Let Him die! He has raised your dead – Let death be His fate!
This morning during meditation I again felt that mysterious appeal from our Blessed Lord for a life of absolute, complete sacrifice of every comfort. I see and feel now, without a shadow of a doubt, as certainly if Jesus Himself appeared and spoke to me, that He wants me to give up now and for ever all self-indulgence, to look on myself as not being free in the matter. That being so how can I continue my present manner of life, of a certain amount of generosity, fervent one day and then the next day giving in to self in everything?
When a little unwell, or when I have a slight headache, I lie down, give up work, indulge myself in the refectory. I see that I lose immensdy by this, for that is the time of great merit, and Jesus sends me that pain to bear for Him.
During the winter I have done a penance which I shrink from and dread in a way which I cannot describe. I have had to drive myself by vow to perform it. I set my alarm for three o’clock when it is freezing, slip out of the house in my night-shirt and stand up to my neck in the pond, praying for sinners.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle lived a life of hard penance. While penance and self-denial are essential for spiritual growth, it is clear that most of us are not called to copy this aspect of his life. Fr Doyle clearly felt that he had a very specific call to live this hard life. His confessor seems to have also agreed with this, and to have suggested various small modifications to his penances which he gladly implemented.
Fr Doyle’s penances are controversial for some people. It is worth noting that most of the most popular and beloved saints also practiced lives of great austerity. In fact, St Ignatius himself practiced this very same penance of praying whilst standing in a cold lake. These penances have not reduced the popularity of either Ignatius or of the other saints who did similar mortifications. It is also worth bearing in mind that physical mortification was very much the norm during Fr Doyle’s time, and that whatever Fr Doyle did has to be seen in that context.
The example of Fr Doyle’s penance in the lake came to mind when reading an account of the Forth Martyrs of Sebaste in Armenia, whose feast it is today. Here is a description of their martyrdom from Butler’s Lives of the Saints, itself an important source of inspiration for Fr Doyle as a young man:
The forty martyrs were soldiers quartered at Sebaste in Armenia, about the year 320. When their legion was ordered to offer sacrifice they separated themselves from the rest and formed a company of martyrs. After they had been torn by scourges and iron hooks they were chained together and led to a lingering death.
It was a cruel winter, and they were condemned to lie naked on the icy surface of a pond in the open air till they were frozen to death. But they ran undismayed to the place of their combat, joyfully stripped off their garments, and with one voice besought God to keep their ranks unbroken. “Forty,” they cried, “we have come to combat: grant that forty may be crowned.” There were warm baths hard by, ready for any one amongst them who would deny Christ.
The soldiers who watched saw angels descending with thirty-nine crowns, and, while he wondered at the deficiency in the number, one of the confessors lost heart, renounced his faith, and, crawling to the fire, died body and soul at the spot where he expected relief. But the soldier was inspired to confess Christ and take his place, and again the number of forty was complete.
They remained steadfast while their limbs grew stiff and frozen, and died one by one. Among the Forty there was a young soldier who held nut longest against the cold, and when the officers came to cart away the dead bodies they found him still breathing. They were moved with pity, and wanted to leave him alive in the hope that he would still change his mind. But his mother stood by, and ‘this valiant woman could not bear to see her son separated from the band of martyrs. She exhorted him to persevere, and lifted his frozen body into the cart. He was just able to make a sign of recognition, and was borne away, to be thrown into the flames with the dead bodies of his brethren.
It is perhaps significant that these 40 martyrs were soldiers. Undoubtedly they received many graces to help them withstand these austerities for so long. But it is also likely that their physical training as soldiers toughened them up as well.
So too, then, with Fr Doyle. If we admire the hero of the trenches with his radiant cheerfulness and disregard of his own comfort in the service of others, we must also respect the spiritual and physical training he undertook in his earlier life. His penances were – unknown to him at the time – the training ground for the heroism of the war years. It seems impossible that we can have one without the other.
And this brings us back to ourselves, and our Lenten observance. If we wish to grow and overcome our weaknesses and vices, then we must train ourselves, and we do this by means of our Lenten resolutions and self-denial, moderated in a way suitable to our strength and capability. There can be a temptation to consider this idea of spiritual growth as quaint or old fashioned, as if we had somehow outgrown this. But who amongst us doesn’t need to improve? Don’t we want to be better parents and spouses? Wouldn’t our families or communities be more peaceful places if we all worked to perfect ourselves and overcome our faults? Wouldn’t our world be a better place if individuals had more self-control and patience and dedication to duty? Perhaps this idea of growing in virtue is not so out of date after all…