Taking Up the Cross: A Reflection
by Ms. Jess Myers
Passionist Volunteers International
Jamaica, West Indies
The hills of Stony Hill are the perfect place for a morning walk. As the sun rises over the Blue Mountains in the east, waking up the hummingbirds, and bringing brilliant color to the flowers, I start my day off with a walk. I take along my rosary to help me pray and prepare myself for the day. As each walk passed, I began to develop my own unique style to saying the rosary. A decade for my family, one for my friends, one for Jamaica, one for special intentions, and one for my future. Even more importantly, by being a Passionist Volunteer, I found it important to incorporate the example of St. Paul of the Cross and the Passionist charism into my prayer life. As a result, I also began using each new decade as a way to reflect on the Passion of Christ. Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me. Help me to carry my own crosses with strength, truth, and grace. As I began to reflect on my own crosses I bear as a volunteer in Jamaica, I also began to relate my life to other aspects of Jesus' Passion as portrayed in the Stations of the Cross…
While I was not condemned to death as Jesus was in the First Station of the Cross, I was commissioned in August to become a Passionist Volunteer International in Jamaica. With such a commissioning I began to take on a new journey. A journey that I've learned requires taking up certain kinds of crosses in order that I may serve others. Yet, as Jesus did in the Second Station, I accept and embrace these crosses.
Jesus falls the first time. I too have visited this Third Station several times already. From dog bites to bus accidents, I've fallen to the ground. From these low points, I look up to God, asking "why me?" God answers by showing me the faces of those I work with—those with much greater burdens and many longer and harder falls. The perseverance I witness blesses me with the strength to get up and continue.
Despite these challenges, I am met with encouragement as Jesus was when He met His mother, Mary, in the Fourth Station. I too had my mother find me in the midst of my journey when she traveled to Jamaica, not once, but twice, to be with me. As she walked the paths in the missions she was able to meet the people I work with, allowing her to understand my calling a bit better. I was granted the benefit of feeling the warmth of her hug, feeling the comfort of her listening ears, and feeling the love of her devotion.
In addition to meeting my mother, I have been able to be helped as Simon assisted Jesus in carrying His cross in the Fifth Station. My father and brother visited me, helping me along the way. I have friends and family send letters of encouragement. My community has been an added strength to help me through hard days. The friends I've made in Jamaica have also been an added support throughout my days. Moreover, I am able to be Simon to others, helping them carry their crosses. I've taken mothers and their sick children to the doctor. I'm helping children with their reading skills. I've carried water jugs back from the river and into people's homes. I routinely cut the fingernails of an arthritic elderly woman. All of this is teaching me what an amazing opportunity Simon was given was he was asked to carry the cross and did not refuse.
In the same way, I've been blessed like Veronica by being able to offer my veil to Jesus. I've wiped the face of Christ by wiping the tears away from little children or rubbing the back of the elderly in pain from arthritis and high blood pressure. I also find joy in serving homebound persons who cannot come to church by bringing them communion and sharing the word of Christ with them. In these quiet moments I'm left with the image of Christ.
Sometimes physically falling isn't as hard as emotional falls. As Jesus fell a second time in the Seventh Station, He probably fell a bit harder and stayed down a bit longer. Sometimes the burden of homesickness knocks me down hard. I want to get up and simply run back home. Yet, in the absence of my family and friends, I have been given the ability to love on a totally new level. I am driven by a deep love for the people I work with that I'd do anything for them, even if it means falling into homesickness at times. I know that the laughter of the playing children at lunch, the reminiscing of a 94 year-old woman, or holding the hand of a little boy will help lift me back up and start the journey again.
Through my visits with the homebound and special mentorships with certain children, I am able to console the women and children as Jesus did in the Eighth Station. A particular homebound woman has been neglected by her family and so I have bathed her, cleaned her house, and fed her. I've been able to relieve some of her distresses by simply sitting with her and holding her hand. In the same respect, I picked up a crying child freshly beaten by his mother, wiped his tears, and rocked him in my arms. It is in these moments that I remember my purpose of accompaniment in Jamaica and why I am called to go further in my journey.
Perhaps the greatest of all falls are those not experienced by myself, but those I watch others suffer from. Poverty. Illiteracy. Malnutrition. Child abuse. Elderly neglect. Crime. Violence. This third fall in the Ninth Station, weakens my spirit. As Jesus fell the third time I can only imagine the grief and torture the onlookers felt. The outrage some must have experienced as they witnessed such disrespect for human life. Somehow Jesus got up and somehow I do and will continue to do so.
As a volunteer, my community and I have accepted the concept of simple living. With simple living comes sacrifice of things we are normally accustomed to, such as certain foods and normal routines. Community living is a sacrifice of a certain amount of independence and freedoms. Then of course, being in Jamaica, requires sacrificing day-to-day relationships with family and friends back at home. In this sense, I too, have been stripped of a certain kind of garment as Jesus was in the Tenth Station.
The Eleventh through Fourteenth Stations are at this moment hard for me to correlate in this reflection. Maybe this is because I am scared or feel unworthy to compare my volunteer life to being nailed to and dying on a cross (I'm not sure how that would help the program recruit more volunteers). Despite this, I have suffered in some ways. I will take away some wounds and scars, both physically and emotionally, from this experience when it is all said and done. In coming to Jamaica, I had to let a part of me die. I knew there was a risk, a beautiful one indeed, of letting go of the old self to embrace a new self. And, with that, comes the most important correlation of all—that of the happy ending. After the falls, the struggles, the tears, hurts, and pain, there is the promise of new life. When I leave Jamaica, I will indeed be a new person. The life I lead will be undeniably new. Yet, I will never get to that life without this walk of the Passion first, for it is in His Passion that Jesus was truly able to share His love and give of Himself.
In reflecting on the Way of the Cross, I am able to humble myself and find encouragement. I am not alone and never will be as I walk along the hills in the morning, tutor kids and visit with the elderly in the afternoon, and come home with dirty feet and a tired heart. As I accompany the people of Jamaica, I realize that I too am being accompanied by Jesus. Sometimes, as the story goes, there are two sets of footprints, other times only one. Yet, when I finish this year of service and return home I know I will look back and see two sets of footprints dancing and rejoicing. And it is for this reason that I will continue to walk by faith.