Stations of the Cross 5-6: Bystanders and Bypassers Turn Away

Throughout this Holy Week, we will be sharing a series of poetic meditations on the Stations of the Cross by Malcom Guite. An Anglican priest-poet currently serving as Chaplain of Girton College at the University of Cambridge, Guite has published eight books of his poetry, with two more forthcoming. His collection Sounding the Seasons comprises sonnets composed for various feasts and seasons throughout the liturgical year, including this series. We are grateful for Guite’s kind permission to share these sonnets on Church Life Journal.

In these next two Stations we are presented with two contrasting personas: Simon, whose reaction to his initial encounter with Jesus might be characterized as, “There but for the grace of God go I,” and Veronica, whose reaction might be characterized as, “There with all the grace of God go I.” Simon is pressed into service; Veronica offers hers freely in love. And yet, both are in their own way transfigured by their encounter with the suffering Christ: Simon quite literally learns to imitate Jesus by taking up the Cross, and Veronica lives into her name by becoming a true icon (a verum icon) of him in whose bruised and bleeding face she recognized the Incarnate Son of God. Here, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach provides an apt accompaniment as we pray for the grace to carry our crosses and serve Christ in others in our own lives through the words of his beautiful aria: “Come, sweet cross—this is what I will say—my Jesus, give it always to me! If my suffering at any time becomes too heavy, then you yourself will help me to bear it.”

V.  Simon of Cyrene carries the cross

In desperation on this road of tears
Bystanders and bypassers turn away.
In other’s pain we face our own worst fears
And turn our backs to keep those fears at bay,
Unless we are compelled as this man was
By force of arms or force of circumstance
To face and feel and carry someone’s cross
In Love’s full glare and not his backward glance.
So, Simon, no disciple, still fulfilled
The calling: ‘Take the cross and follow me.’
By accident his life was stalled and stilled,
Becoming all he was compelled to be.
Make me, like him, your pressed man and your priest,
Your alter Christus, burdened and released.

VI.  Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Bystanders and bypassers turn away
And wipe his image from their memory.
She keeps her station. She is here to stay
And stem the flow. She is the reliquary
Of his last look on her. The bloody sweat
And salt tears of his love are soaking through
The folds of her devotion and the wet
Folds of her handkerchief, like the dew
Of morning, like a softening rain of grace.
Because she wiped the grime from off his skin,
And glimpsed the godhead in his human face
Whose hidden image we all bear within,
Through all our veils and shrouds of daily pain
The face of God is shining once again.

© Malcolm Guite from Sounding the Seasons, Canterbury Press 2012,

Editorial Note: During the month of March, Church Life will be considering the many ways in which the sacrifice of the cross shapes all aspects of the theological imagination (click here for the other pieces in this series). The other Stations of the Cross meditations can be found here.

Featured Image: Francisco Zurbaran, Veronica's Veil, c. 1660; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.


Carolyn Pirtle

Carolyn Pirtle is the program director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy and a composer of liturgical music. She is the author of Praying the Rosary Together.

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