From Selfishness to Simon of Cyrene: Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer

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simoncross

Yesterday, my young adult daughter had to face a tremendous cross of her own. I tried to be as strong as I could be and didn’t shed any tears until later when I was alone. She handled it by running to Adoration as soon as she could. As soon as she walked in the door I wanted to hug her and offer some hopeful words, but she wasn’t ready for them, which is fine. I know when she needs to be alone to deal with her pain. An hour later she emerged from her room, smiling. A friend just happened to tell her about the cross she (the friend) was carrying. It made my daughter’s cross just the wee bit lighter.

While we don’t rejoice over other people’s suffering, it helps when we know that others have crosses as well. And it helps us become kinder, gentler people, to know that the friend who can be short with us at times, or come off as cold, or even cruel, has his/her own cross to carry.

Yet from all available evidence, the most basic healing of our deepest wounds comes from contemplative intimacy with the indwelling Trinity and the deep conversion that makes it possible. This last sentence is far from obvious to everyone.

Yes.

… human hurts are not caused by states in life. Marriage is not faulty; husbands and wives are the problems.

We are born into this world utterly self-centered, and it is only after long struggling that some of us manage to get rid of it, partially or wholly. In theology we call this fundamental wound original sin.

This egoism shows itself in myriads of suppositions, minor and major: “I won’t be patient with your ways of doing things and your faults, but I expect you to be patient with mine . . . You must accommodate my desires and preferences, but I need not accommodate yours . . . You should understand my idiosyncrasies, but I need not understand yours . . . When we disagree, I need not be gentle and amiable and open-minded, but you must be all of these.”

From Selfishness to Simon of Cyrene

Selfishness is usually bred in the family, at least from what I’ve seen. We get into patterns of behavior that are hard to grow out of, and we carry it into adulthood and into marriage. The great thing about marriage is that it’s the best school for growing up….. if we are prepared to grow up. When we hold on to the selfish patterns we developed in childhood or youth, we cause suffering for our spouse and our children without even realizing it. But for the cycle to stop, we have to be the one who says, it stops WITH ME. I will let it go no further than this.

A lot of adult selfishness and resentment, I think, is rooted in a wrong sense of “rightness” — because I have experienced (or continue to experience ____ ), my response is _____. I refuse to change because a) that’s the response that has worked for me in the past, b) that’s the response that makes me feel good. It doesn’t matter whether that response is actually a selfish response that perpetuates the cycle instead of stopping it.

What I need to do is look at what I’m doing, at various moments in the day, and ask myself, is this the selfless response? No matter the stimulus, no matter the old memories or resentments that resurface, can I change my response to a LOVING one?

Sometimes it’s easy to think, I don’t have it in me. I was born/raised this way, and this is how I respond. I’ve heard people say exactly that. It takes a degree of maturity, and perhaps time, to say, “It doesn’t matter. My spouse/child/co-worker/colleague/friend can treat me as selfishly as they want to, *I* will respond in an unselfish fashion. *I* will go against the tide and stop selfishness in its tracks because I refuse to respond selfishly.”

And granted, there are still many days when I am not able to live up to my own expectations of myself, when I know I could have done better, could have done more for the other, could have loved more, but I chose to be selfish or lazy.

Lent provides me with another opportunity to change things. By allowing myself this time to detach from things that are not of importance, I am able to see where I can make little changes in my life that turn into big changes: the moments when I say yes to the toddler more than I say yes to me, the moments when I choose to start dinner 30 minutes earlier than usual so that food is on the table earlier and there’s more time for hubby to relax later, the moments when I offer a child a hug instead of waiting for them to ask for one.

During Lent, the prayer most repeated often in the Liturgy of the Hours, is “Come, let us worship Christ the Lord, who for our sake endured temptation and suffering.”

I was meditating on this sentence last night and was struck by this simple truth: he shared our temptation and suffering, AND YET, he didn’t give in to temptation… moreover, He still had to suffer… for us! We, on the other hand, give in to temptation and still complain about the suffering, when more often than not, the suffering comes to us via our own responses to temptation. What selfish beings we are!

I also realized the past few days, as I was called on by loved ones, for various reasons, to share their crosses a bit here and there, that while some of us appear to have lighter crosses than others, we are closest to imaging our Lord in our loved ones’ eyes while they are in the midst of suffering. We are told that we need to see Christ in those around us because that’s the only way we can love them as they need to be loved. There is no moment more suited to this reality than when we look at our loved one face to face as they carry their cross. It is then that we are both stripped bare of everything and can gaze at each other in our raw, naked state — heart to heart — child of God to child of God.

As we prayed the Rosary last night and meditated on the Sorrowful Mysteries, I got to thinking about friendships and relationships that got built around adversity and suffering. I sometimes ask the Lord where my cross is, but perhaps those times when I feel like I’ve been spared one, I could instead be the disciple who stays up with Jesus to pray at the garden of Gethsemane. I could be the disciple who prays that the whip won’t hit too sharply as Jesus is scourged at that pillar. I could be the disciple who prays that the crown of thorns doesn’t dig too deeply into my Lord’s head. I could be Simon, who helps carry the Cross even if it’s just part of the way. I could be the disciple who begs for our Father’s mercy as I stand at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

One Comment

  1. this part is golden. i love it! “he shared our temptation and suffering, AND YET, he didn’t give in to temptation… moreover, He still had to suffer… for us! We, on the other hand, give in to temptation and still complain about the suffering, when more often than not, the suffering comes to us via our own responses to temptation. What selfish beings we are!”

    the last paragraph too is very insightful. thanks!

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