Friday, June 15, 2012

A yoke that is easy, a burden that is light. (Reflections on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, Matt. 11:25-30)

“Come to me, all you who labor 
and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you
and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, 
and my burden is light.”

There’s an ancient Christian legend that Jesus and his father Joseph made the best ox-yokes in all Galilee, and that from all over the country people came to him to buy the best yokes around. It was said that the yokes they made were so popular because they fit very well the oxen that were brought to them.

It may well be that Jesus in today’s gospel is using an image from his father’s carpenter's shop in Nazareth where he had worked in his youth.

What Jesus is saying is that his yoke fits well—which means that the life God gives us is not really a burden because while we do have to carry it, it is measured to fit us well.

While challenges will always be part of life, we are never given trials we cannot bear. We are never given difficulties we cannot overcome.

I once had the privilege of being introduced to a beautiful and amazing young couple, brilliant medical doctors who spent practically all of their spare time doing medical missions to poor areas of the Philippines. What was even more remarkable about them was the profound link they saw and sought to live, between their faith and their profession.

To witness their devotion as well as generosity to the poor and needy was one of the gifts I believe God sent me in my early days as a priest—a way perhaps to remind and encourage me in my own vocation.

Many years later, the wife developed a malignant tumor at the base of her skull. The husband brought her to the States, hoping to get her the best medical attention and to do everything to save her life. She lived for a couple more months but eventually passed away.

Her husband was absolutely devastated, and for a period of time, lost much of the fire, faith, and enthusiasm I saw and admired in both of them. Knowing that he needed support and encouragement, I made it a point to check in on him once in a while, though eventually, because of work, our communication stopped.

About a year or two later, I received a phone call from him asking if I was available to come over to his place to talk. When I arrived at his house, I was surprised to see so many people, most of whom looked like they were either ill or accompanying someone who was. My friend came out to greet me and the first thing I noticed was how joyful and excited he was—something I last saw when his wife was still alive.

He then told me that as he sank deeper into depression after his wife’s death—with thoughts of suicide crossing his mind—he prayed and asked God to either take him so he could be with her, or show him how to go on with his life in a way that would keep her presence, devotion, faith, and memory alive. It was then, he said—when he “hit rock-bottom”—that he came upon that one last tiny sliver of strength and hope that he had left in him.

“Father, it was as if my wife spoke to me,” he said, tears in his eyes. “It was as if she were telling me to continue doing the work we loved doing, because she would continue being with me and giving me strength. I knew God had answered my prayer. And so this is what I do now.”

(Even I couldn’t help but be totally moved to tears at the grace of God’s love and mercy I saw unfold before me in the life of this young widower. I’ve received many consolations and joys from God in my life as a priest. This one though, I’ve always believed, ranks among the very top ones.)

Indeed, the people I saw gathered in his house waiting to be given medical care that day were some of the most underprivileged in the area—people who could not afford medical attention. In his work for them, his beloved wife continued to live and be present to him. In them, he rediscovered hope and meaning; and through them, God rekindled his faith.

God could not take the yoke and burden away from him; but He showed him a way to make it lighter, bearable, meaningful, redemptive.

The crosses of life do not spare even the most faithful among us. But whatever our cross or trial might be, Jesus tells us in the gospel that God will never send us something we cannot bear.

Like the well-fitting yokes he and his father made in their carpenter shop, whatever trial life sends our way will always fit the abilities and gifts God has given us.

God’s love for us will never guarantee a comfortable or problem-free life. What it does assure us though, is that while we cannot escape the yokes and burdens of life, He will always be by our side to make them easy and light. With Jesus by our side, we will never be broken by any storm life sends our way.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)