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Fr Billy Swan

This week, as part of the virtual diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, I led the Stations of the Cross in St Aidan's Cathedral, Enniscorthy. Theses reflections took the unusual angle of seeing each station through the eyes of St Joseph in this year dedicated to his honour. Here I share the first five of those meditations that begin with a piece of Scripture and end with a prayer.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

‘So, Pilate, wishing satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas; and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified’ (Mark 15:15).

‘I never thought it would come to this. When he was only an infant, he was in danger from the hatred and jealously of Herod. In a dream, I heard the voice of God asking me to take him and his mother to safety in Egypt. I did all I could to protect them. At that time, I saw the wickedness that people are capable of and how they were prepared to condemn the innocent although they were the ones who were guilty. Now, I see this wickedness again. This time, I feel helpless to save him. But this is why he came – not to save himself but to save others. Standing condemned before Pilate, he has moved into the space that so many of the sick know too well. Those condemned by a diagnosis, condemned by illness, condemned to a fate they did not deserve. In that space and close to all the afflicted, Jesus draws close’.

Loving Father, you sent your only Son, not to condemn us but to save us. And in order to save us, he himself was condemned. May all those condemned by illness and poor health know you are close to them as someone who understands and who walks with them when the shadows of sickness and old age began to fall on us.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

‘Jesus went out bearing his cross to the place called the skull which is called in Hebrew Golgotha (John 19:17).

‘I spent 30 years in his company before he left us to preach and teach the Gospel. In that hidden life of our family, I taught him the skills of carpentry and how to work with wood. I showed him how two pieces of wood could meet and intersect, one vertical, the other horizontal. Now I see him accepting a cross on which he will be nailed and die. In that intersection between the vertical and horizontal pieces, I see who Jesus really is as Son of God and Son of Man. He came to reveal the Father’s love as Son of God. But he is also Son of humanity and a brother to all of us. He asked his disciples to take up their cross. He does so now himself. In doing so, he picks up the burdens and crosses of all who believe in him. As families bear the burden of loved ones who are sick, so does Jesus carry the burden of us all, whatever that might be. He carries our cross with us for in his own words: ‘my yoke is easy and my burden is light’.

God our Father, your Son Jesus was merciful to those burdened by illness. With them and for them, he too takes us his cross. Tonight, we remember all who carry a heavy cross every day because of illness or the sickness of a family member. May we know that we are never alone but that he is carrying us through to better days.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’ (John 12:24).

Jesus falls under the weight of the cross. I remember the times when Mary and I picked him up as a child when he fell. It reminded us that he was human like us in all things but sin. Now he falls under the burden he bears, under the weight of sin, shame and sorrow. He bears the burden so that it may be lighter for us to carry. Because he fell under the cross, Jesus knows what it is like to fall and be crushed. He knows how the burden of illness can be too much to bear at times. As he falls for the first time, he thinks of and prays for people at breaking point; families who can no longer cope and fear they are breaking apart; people racked with the pain of arthristis or those undergoing treatment. As he rises from his first fall, he gives hope to so many with the strength to carry on.

Father, hear the prayers of all who feel crushed by the weight of sickness, disability or pain. To all who have fallen into despair and unbelief, shine the light of your presence and your peace. May the rising of your Son after his first fall, inspire the sick to rise again and keep going forward in hope.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

‘Simeon said to Mary: this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel and a sign of contradiction. And the sword will pierce through your own soul too’ (Luke 2: 34-35).

It is hard enough seeing one person you love suffer. But seeing two is heart-breaking. Jesus suffers his passion in in body. Mary, my beloved wife, suffers it in her soul. On the day we presented him in the temple, the old prophet Simeon said something unusual. He spoke about the soul of my wife being pierced. At the time, I did not understand what he meant. Now I see and now I understand. At this station, I ask you to join me in praying for all family members of those who are sick. Like Mary, while their loved ones suffer in their bodies, they suffer in their minds and hearts. Mary’s love drew close to her Son at the time when he needed that love most. May all the disciples of Christ draw near to those who are sick and who thirst for human warmth and support.

Merciful Father, despite your Son’s cruel agony, you did not leave him bereft of human consolation and support. As he met his mother on the way to Calvary, he knew he was not alone and that the love of his mother would never leave him. Send the same consolation to the sick and dying, especially to members of our families and parishes. May the experience of illness bring us closer also in the family of the Church. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.


We adore you O Christ and we bless you. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

‘And they compelled a passerby Simon of Cyrene who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus to carry his cross’ (Mark 15:21).

At a certain point on Jesus’ sorrowful walk to Calvary, they feared he would die from exhaustion along the way. And so, they forced Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry his cross. As we too walk along the journey of life, we also get tired because of the crosses we carry, especially if we carry the cross of illness. At those times we need the help and support of others because we can’t manage on our own. If the Son of God needed human assistance, surely we need that help too. When Mary and I were travelling south to Bethlehem for the census, she needed to stop and rest along the way, for her time had almost come. When I had to flee to Egypt with her and the infant Jesus, I learned the value of patience and what it means to carry each other along the journey of life. I pray for all of you that you may know the help of some Simon of Cyrene along the journey of your life, especially when the going gets tough. Unlike Simon, may they be friends willing to ease the burden and share it with us.

Abba Father, you call us to walk the journey of life not on our own but together as fellow pilgrims. When we feel exhausted and can’t continue, send friends to pick us up and help us carry on. May your grace of perseverance and strength flow through their friendship and mercy. Amen.


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