Come to me all to who labour and I will give you rest.
We are all familiar with the pressures and demands of life. We face social and spiritual struggles. At the social level, we have family responsibilities, we are carers, we must pay our way, we live in uncertain and insecure times and our resources do not always seem up to the task. Spiritually, though we have our good days, we often feel weak, temptation periodically succeeds, we make bad choices, we try desperately hard to be good and sometimes we wonder if we are going to win. We know we did not make ourselves and we cannot manage ourselves. The bottom line is that many have found it all too much though we keep plodding on, I am sure like me, you have had your moments too. Some days it’s just one step forward and two back.
Jesus understands how hard it can be for us. For the first thirty years of His life were formative. The Lord watched the daily struggles of people and what life placed on frail shoulders. He saw family concerns: parents struggling, marriage problems, children issues, unemployment and debt, with people unable to provide for their own. He saw anxious and depressed people worried for whatever reason. He saw carers struggling to provide a safe environment of love and support, for sick relatives incapacitated or with physical and mental illness. This ‘unknown time’ was an essential part of Jesus’ preparation for public ministry. Jesus knew people and listened to their story. Jesus was very active in those three decades and not just with wood. He was caring, pro-active, people watching, He was listening, discerning, learning and preparing to be the One to bring peace to troubled lives. When Jesus went into His Public ministry, He was well acquainted with the human state and our daily struggle. He could speak our language and people flocked to the One they felt understood and could offer them some hope and support.
On top of the struggles of life, what Jesus also saw was that the Law of Love at the heart of religion had been distorted by the religious authorities. It had been added to and reinterpreted and was a huge legal minefield that good sincere religious people had to walk through trying to observe every minute law to please God. Jesus saw his people stuck between a rock and a hard place. Life was demanding and religion just added to the burden. To reach an acceptable level of holiness and to live religion in a way pleasing to God seemed impossible. For many of us, sainthood seems out of reach an impossible ideal. I often feel I give God a poor return for all His blessings.
Jesus, in our Gospel today, reaches out to us in His love to help us with all we have to do and love and duty and faith demands of us. He does not set the high standard and then stand back and watch our struggle. No, come He comes to our aid in wonderful and powerful ways. He does not take away what must be done or even endured, but He does give us the resources to succeed. Jesus does not ask us to run away from love and duty. He does not offer an escape. It is clear that we are not here for personal comfort but for important work in God’s Kingdom. Jesus offers us rest. For us rest with Jesus is empowerment and a sense of accompaniment. It is God’s Love that empowers and accompanies us. The Love that sustains also involves: service, duty, responsibility, compassion, mercy and kindness. These are not the easy option but they are us at our best. A loving, sensitive life lived for God will have to bear the cross, this is inescapable. To those who are trying to live such a life Jesus addresses His words today.
Jesus says: “I bless you Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children”. In order to be at peace, to feel sufficiently loved, to be secure, to feel we can please God and not neglect others, we must see ourselves as one of the Father’s ‘little ones’, His children. The ‘wise and the clever’ do not understand. They often showed Jesus they had big brains but small hearts. Children are humble, they ask: ‘Why? ‘ They know that they don’t know it all. They are explorers. Jesus can’t take you on His journey if you feel you have already arrived. Children are open by nature and curious. Some children’s prayers: ‘Dear God, I would like to know where all the people come from. Please explain it better than my father does. love, Mary. ‘ They experience wonder and awe. ‘Dear God, I love you. Today a bird flew in the window of our class. George’. They believe in miracles: ‘Dear God, my dad is unable to light a fire for the leaves, can you make a burning bush for our garden? Tommy’. Goethe wrote that miracle is faith’s dearest child. The biggest and the smallest things in creation fascinate children. I remember that I brought some odd crawling creatures in from the garden to show Mom – not always getting the expected response! Children use their instincts well, when afraid they run without a moment’s hesitation to the safe arms of love. They are always asking, seeking, knocking, wondering, curious lifting things up and looking under. The Lord works well with such a disposition. God the Father is our Daddy-God, our Abba to Whom we can and should turn to in all circumstances and Who is very happy when we do. To be a ‘little one’ is to be grace compatible. Only when we truly turn/come to Him can we move to the next part of what the Lord offers.
“My burden is light…” For God to give us a burden seems hard. We have enough on our plate without God adding to it. They say that a burden shared can be a burden halved. Not always, I know. But often it is a relief to share how things are for us with a person who is wise, confidential, empathises well and give us encouragement to keep going. Not all burdens are bad for us. Not all things that press on us would we call burdens. Some things we are happy to do we just need the strength to do them well. There is a difference between worry and concern. Worry is an emotional response to something that unsettles and drains us. It does us no good at all. Concern can be constructive and it is solution orientated. Concerns can be addressed; worries are hard to render positive. Some of our burdens are self-imposed. Others are unavoidable. God only gives us burdens that are productive in His service of Love; they can only do us good. God’s Love is all important. Love makes the heaviest burden lighter. A person deprived of food for a day will feel the annoying hunger pangs and that hunger will increasingly become the point of focus. Yet, a mother who gives her food to her hungry child will not notice her hunger so much, if at all. Jesus, Who loves us, meets us in all that burdens us. He will bring encouragement and Divine assistance. Jesus especially reaches out to those who feel they are not meeting the religious grade. He simplifies all and tells us to love the Lord Our God with all we are and our neighbour as ourselves. But love and compassion are heavy loads Lord. Burdens are less onerous if carried properly. That bring us to the yoke.
“My yoke is easy…” The yoke Jesus refers to is the double form for it took two oxen to plough. The yoke was bespoke. A truer translation of the Greek word used would not be ‘easy’ but ‘well-fitting’. The animals would be brought to the carpenter who first, carefully measured the animal’s shoulders and chest, then he carefully crafted, smoothed, and softened the yoke with a pad for the maximum comfort of each oxen. We all know what it is to wear ill-fitting shoes and their effect on our walking. I visited a lady once who had her false teeth in a glass. She apologised and said she had left them out until she had got used to wearing them! Obviously not the best fit and adjustment required. A well-fitting yoke will enable the oxen to be more comfortable and for the animal to have greater endurance. My mother, God rest her, used to say God makes the shoulders to fit the cross. This is true. When God made us, He knew what we must do for Him and He knew how to equip us with the means to succeed in His work. The yoke enables the two animals to pull in complete unison. To work in communion with each other. The load is evenly shared. Also, the yoke enables the animals to push the load with the stronger chest muscles than the lower, weaker back muscles. In life God calls us to push not to drag. Jesus says “my yoke”. He is the other side from us. Jesus brings all His Divine Spirit filled resources and Presence to assist us. Also, with Lord, we are yoked to each other in baptism. We are the Body of Christ. We share each other’s burdens. We should feel the spiritual presence of our brothers and sister even when we are alone with the problem. We pray for each other. Anything the Lord asks us to carry with Him will never be too much for us; what we ask of ourselves is another matter. We have nothing to fear from God’s loving will. With Him beside us and His love to assist us, we cannot fail, our potential for good will be fully realized and we will be productive in God’s eyes.
The Mass is the place where we bring our issues and we know God understands. He wants us to place our story on His Altar and He will take our burdens and duties in His Sacred Hands through the hands of His priest and call the Spirit upon them. Sometimes the burden is transformed, sometimes is it us empowered for the burden. Mom was right about our shoulders. It should be our daily prayer that we can be more positive about our issues. It can be an attitude problem. We get into a negative downward spiral and we lose our sense of proportion and hope goes out of the window. For so much in life, we seem to have got out of the wrong side of the bed. We are Christians with the same loads as others, maybe a little more, but with a positive attitude knowing what God can make of our loaves and fishes. This Gospel reminds us the sum total of our Christian responsibility is to become a co-worker with Christ. At times we feel the fingers of fatigue and then, thankfully, the gentle tug of the yoke as Jesus takes the lead to guide us as He sustains us. God will get us through. The beauty of God’s system is that yoked to Him we complete our loving tasks together. I think of the hymn of St. Patrick; Christ be beside me. I love this hymn because it gives us a sense of the surrounding love of God: The Lord is at our side sharing the load, behind us lest we fall, above us to watch over us, under us for support and before us to lead us on. I can see it now in my mind’s eye: We will arrive at Heaven and Jesus, Who has walked at our side, will move in front of us to lead us to our place at the Table of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. This is how Jesus wants us to feel always, positive and hopeful. You may say: “you are an optimist, Father”. To which I say: “Absolutely!”, the Jesus before us will take us to His Table in the banquet of Heaven. Also we have the assistance of the prayer of the our departed loved ones and Church in Heaven, also our brothers and sister here on earth; I cannot think of better company to keep, to work with, upon whom to rely and in due course (post God’s mercy) to spend eternity with.
An elderly, holy lady in a care home told her priest she was very worried. When asked ‘Why? ‘ She said: “Father, I have outlived my relatives and good friends by many years. I’m worried that they may be wondering in Heaven ‘She must be gone by now’ and concluded I must have gone to the other place when I’m still here!” With the Lord we have to plough to the end of the furrow. When we complete the task isn’t important, to have walked and worked at the Lord’s side is all that matters.
Fr. Gerard X