SIMON OF CYRENE
Simon is the model of all involuntary workers. We have much to learn from him - more, it may be, than from more perfect people. Many people dislike their work and would give it up without regret if they could afford to do so. This may be a more general condition today, but it is not new. Hear from someone who lived about 2,500 years ago:
“Is not our life on earth nothing more than pressed service,
our days no better than hired drudgery?
Like the slave, sighing for the shade,
or the workman with no thought but his wages….’
Our age has been called the age of alienation. To be alienated is to feel an outsider to what is happening; but more deeply it is to feel an outsider to oneself. Many people today feel lonely and disconnected, despite the almost miraculous new technologies of communication. Our need is deeper than the need to know; we need to feel involved, heart and soul, in what is going on around us and in us. The mind’s instinct is to analyse - a word whose Greek origin means ‘to undo, to loosen’. We need putting back together again.
What is my gut feeling about the human world around me? Am I part of it or not? Am I “in it but not of it”? Can I be one with it, damaged and all as it is, damaged and all as I am? And the natural world: can I be one with it? To put it another way, Can I love it? Can I welcome its laws and find them not alien to me? And can I seriously love God? Can I be one with God? Does the “law of God” feel alien to me and threatening? What if I realise that the law of God is love?
Gregory the Great (A.D. c. 540 – 604) wrote: “What should the ‘law’ of God be taken to mean, if not love? By love we learn inwardly how the commandments of life are to be put into practice. Concerning this law the voice of Truth has said, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another.’ Concerning it Paul says, ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law.’ Again, he says ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.’ What can the law of Christ be more rightly understood to mean, than love? And we truly fulfil his law when, for the sake of love, we bear the burdens of others.”
Henry Suso (c. 1300 – 1366), a disciple of Meister Eckhart, had to take account of a movement called ‘The Brethren of the Free Spirit’. These proclaimed that the true believer was bound by no law. In the following passage Suso deepens and interiorises the notion of law.
“Question: St Paul says that no law is made for the just. (‘The law is laid down not for the just but for the lawless and disobedient’ 1 Timothy 1:9).
Answer: The just, insofar as they are just, conduct themselves more submissively than other people because they understand from within in the ground of their being what is proper outwardly, and they view all things accordingly. The reason that they are not fettered is that they themselves do freely out of an attitude of detachment what ordinary people do under compulsion.”
A monk once asked a Zen Master if the enlightened person was subject to the law of cause-and-effect. Yes sounds like slavery and no sounds like anarchy. The answer was neither yes nor no. There is a middle way, or rather a way that is deeper than both. The enlightened person is one with the law of cause-and-effect. ‘To be one with’ a law is to have interiorised it. It is no longer an imposed law. ‘To be one with’ is another way of saying love.
Many of the mystics are teaching us this lesson, which was natural to people of other times and places, but which may seem new to us. To end: here is a passage from Meister Eckhart (1260 – 1328):
"[Jesus said] ‘This is my commandment [that you love one another]….’ When I am thirsty, the drink commands me; when I am hungry, the food commands me. And God does the same. God commands me to such sweetness that the whole world cannot equal. And if people have once tasted this sweetness, then indeed they can no more turn away with their love from goodness and from God, than God can turn away from Godhead.”
From The Way of the Cross, Donagh O’Shea
Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2003