Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“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 yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
With these words, Jesus lays out a teaching that is among his most consoling and his most challenging. We are invited to rest, and to lay down our burdens – how consoling! Yet we are also told that the yoke of Christ is easy. That yoke, though, is before our eyes every time we enter the church, for the yoke of Christ is the Cross, and that certainly seems more of a challenge than a consolation. But if we look at the order with which Jesus offers these things to us, we might find the lesson intended for our benefit.
First, Jesus invites us to come to him with our labors and burdens. In Christ, we find rest from the challenges of the world. As we are in the midst of summer, we might be thinking of vacation, of laying down burdens, of finding rest for ourselves. A vacation is always a good time for such laying down of burdens. Vacation affords us the opportunity to get away from the normal routine, to rest, to be refreshed, and to start again upon our return. In the spiritual life, we often go for retreat, a time away from our ordinary life that allows us to gain new insight, new discipline, and new appreciation for the grace of God that is all around us. Whether vacation or retreat, we want the time away to be fruitful, to be a real time for refreshment. Often a vacation gives us new perspective on what is most important, how we need to live, what is most necessary or essential for our lives. If we learn our lesson well, the insight gained during the vacation remains with us when we come home. Just so, when we come to Jesus with our burdens and challenges, he gives us rest. In the context of that encounter, Jesus also transforms our perspective. Time spent with Jesus in prayer, whether at Mass, in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in quiet meditation in our own home, has the power to transform us and to give us new insight. With that new insight, we find ourselves resting from the prior concerns and cares. Real spiritual rest begins, and that leads us to the challenging part of our Lord’s Gospel invitation.
The second part of all this is to take the yoke of Christ upon ourselves. That yoke, we know, is the Cross, and the Cross seems uncomfortable and intimidating. But it is in the Cross that we encounter Jesus. Compared to the weight of the sin of all humanity and the sufferings Jesus took on himself for our salvation, our daily problems are dwarfed. There is no burden we carry that is greater than the Cross. When we come to Jesus and take his yoke upon us, we begin to see that whatever our daily problems are, they are part of the Cross. So, then the yoke of Jesus is not something we carry alone. What at first seems a challenge actually becomes an invitation to a closer walk with Jesus.
This new perspective that is given to us when we come to Jesus, when we learn from Him, and when we take up the Cross each day allows us to see our reality no longer from our limited perspective, but with eyes that recognize Christ walking with us each day. As we walk with Jesus each day, we are invited to see things through eyes of faith, through the eyes of God’s love and mercy, and so see all our experience in this renewed, refreshed context. Casting our burdens on Christ leads us to rest, which leads us to renewal, which leads us to a life with Christ.