While meandering along the roads of life, anything can happen to instantly change everything. In honor of Passion Week, I offer this story about such a thing happening to a man named Simon whose son, Rufus became a small part of my story of faith.
A couple thousand years ago while traveling along a Jerusalem road during Passover week, Simon from Cyrene found himself unexpectedly enveloped by a raucous crowd. Perhaps as he strained to get a look at what all the commotion was about, he was noticed by a Roman soldier who pressed him into an unwanted duty – to help the condemned man the crowd was following to carry the cross upon which he would soon be crucified.
That moment catapulted Simon from Cyrene from obscurity because that condemned man he unwittingly helped was Jesus Christ.
Simon from Cyrene is mentioned in three of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ road to Calvary. His role is memorialized in the fifth of the 14 stations of the cross that adorn most Catholic churches. A great depiction of Simon’s service was captured in Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ.”
The account in Mark notes that Simon is the father of Alexander and Rufus who Christian scholars believe were known in Rome where Mark wrote his gospel. In his letter to the Romans, Paul thanks a man named Rufus and his mother for their support of him (Romans 16:13). Many scholars say this Rufus is Simon from Cyrene’s son.
Rufus became part of my story when my parents urged me to take his name for receiving the sacrament of Confirmation in 1967. Catholic parents often choose first and/or middle names for their children after the names of canonized saints or people in the Bible, like Joshua or David or Matthew. My brothers have middle names like Patrick and Daniel. Then these saintly/Biblical names are also reused for their Confirmation name.
My first and middle names are Glenn Roy. Glenn was a favorite name of my mom and Roy is my dad’s first name. However when it came to choosing a name for my Confirmation, we knew of no Glenn's or Roy's in the Bible or among saints. However, my parents claimed that Rufus was an origin for the name Roy. Despite that Rufus was not a cool-sounding name to me, I let my parents talk me into using it for my Confirmation name.
While taking on a Confirmation name is a significant marker of taking a major step in faith, I didn’t actually receive Christ as my Lord and Savior until many years later. Nevertheless, I participated in the Confirmation ceremony with the name “Rufus.”
I vividly recall regretting the choice during the ceremony. When my turn came, I knelt before the bishop who laid his hand on my head and loudly declared me “Rufus!” I imagined everyone looking oddly in my direction at the unusual name I’d chosen. Confirmation is often a memorable ceremony for young Catholics. However, all I really remember was the Rufus part – being embarrassed to be connected with that name.
I feel differently now. Today, I am a Christian and know about this Rufus, son of Simon who helped Jesus with his cross. If I could redo that ceremony, I would be honored to claim the name of Rufus.
Also, I hold a special place in my heart for my parents’ role in my choice thanks to perspective and that I have since become a believer. This part of the story greatly increases my love for my parents and for God who knew I would come to him long before I did.
Interesting how for both me and Rufus, our parents factored significantly in our stories of faith. Possibly, Rufus and his brother were there when their dad carried Jesus’ cross.
When I first took the name of Rufus for my Confirmation, it signified little more than embarrassment and possible parental conspiracy. But it has since emerged to take on a significance well beyond what my parents probably hoped to achieve - me taking a next small step in my faith.
As a parent now, I pray that one or two of the little things I’ve done to nurture faith in my own children blossom in a similar manner.
1) This post is an edited version of a Road Report entitled “My Rufus Story: Hope for Conspiring Parents” posted September 3, 2012 at FarmingtonGlenn.net
2) Gospel mentions of Simon from Cyrene in BibleGateway: Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21 and Luke 23:26
3) 14 Stations of the Cross
- Jesus Is Condemned To Death
- Jesus Is Made To Carry His Cross
- Jesus Falls The First Time
- Jesus Meets His Sorrowful Mother
- Simon Of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross***
- Veronica Wipes The Face Of Jesus
- Jesus Falls The Second Time
- The Women Of Jerusalem Weep Over Jesus
- Jesus Falls The Third Time
- Jesus Is Stripped Of His Garments
- Jesus Is Nailed To The Cross
- Jesus Is Raised Upon The Cross And Dies
- Jesus Taken Down From The Cross And Placed In The Arms Of His Mother
- Jesus Is Laid In The Sepulcher
4) Here is an article about Simon from Cyrene. It offers some interesting conjecture about this man – maybe a Jewish convert or a Gentile, maybe a black man, and whose his wife and sons were well-known in the Christian church in Rome.
5) The seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church: 1. Baptism (Birth); 2. Confirmation (Adulthood); 3. Eucharist (“Communion”), 4. Penance (Reconciliation); 5. Matrimony (Marriage); 6. Holy Orders (Priesthood); 7. Extreme Unction (Sickness, Death).