14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Live-Streamed and Televised Mass (Coronavirus Crisis)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen/ St. Charles Borromeo, Pikesville
July 5, 2020
Burdens: Personal, Societal, and Religious
Among the many things Our LORD has said to us, few are more comforting than his words in today’s Gospel: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Let us admit it: even in the downtime of a holiday weekend, we may find ourselves bearing heavy burdens.
Some of those burdens are personal. The global pandemic has brought personal anxiety and sorrow to our families. So many of us have lost jobs and worry about our financial security. As a pastor of souls, I have also learned that, even when people seem to be doing well, they often conceal heavy burdens in their hearts.
Some burdens go beyond our personal situations. We feel the weight of the problems of our society and our world. As our Nation marks the 244th anniversary of its Independence, what loyal and thoughtful citizen is not worried about our shared future? Who is not troubled by the racial and economic inequality that persists in our society? So, let us observe Independence Day weekend, not only with cookouts and fireworks, but also with prayers for justice, unity, and peace in our beloved homeland. Let us pray that the American experiment in ordered and virtuous liberty may not falter but rather extend its bright promise of human flourishing to all.
In the midst of all such burdens, and in light of Our LORD’s words in today’s Gospel, we might naturally turn to our religion for relief and comfort … and we should … but not without first examining another disturbing tendency, viz., a growing tendency to see our Catholic faith itself as a burden, a burden either to be borne or discarded. We might ask if we ourselves regard our Catholic faith as one of life’s many burdens.
A Religion of “No”?
One of my heaviest burdens is the sharp decline in the number of people who practice the Faith with regularity. Many studies have analyzed the factors that led to this decline, but I have to think that many simply concluded that practicing the faith is more a burden than a benefit. To put it another way, they decided that the yoke of religion is too heavy to bear. Perhaps it’s simply the hassle of getting ready for church on Sunday, or arguing with kids who don’t want to attend Mass. Or maybe it’s the Church’s need for financial support, or the scandals, or perhaps it’s that many people find it hard to get beyond the words, “Thou shalt not”. They perceive our faith as a thicket of moral strictures, rules, programs, and demands… rather than a communion of life, truth, and love that puts them in touch with God. As one who has been called to lead and serve the Archdiocese of Baltimore, I must admit I find it understandable that many people think of their faith as a burden.
The answer, however, is not to abolish the Ten Commandments, even if I could, nor to unravel the Church’s ministries of charity, education, and justice, nor to absolve the Church from the complications of operating in today’s world. To be sure, we sometimes need to simplify or eliminate programs and rules that have outlived their usefulness, and, to re-envision how ministries can be done in life-giving and sustainable ways. But even after all that has been done, you and I are left with an unavoidable reality: Our religion will always feel like a burden unless and until we truly fall in love with Jesus, unless and until we are totally won over to the loving heart of our Redeemer.
Saying “Yes” to Jesus Christ
Notice, that in today’s Gospel, Jesus does not merely say, “I will give you rest” from your burdens. Nor does he merely say, “…my yoke is easy and my burden light…” – as if to tell us, “There, there, don’t you worry, everything’s going to be alright.” No! First, he says, “Come to me!” … “Learn from me!” … Believe it or not, more than a few people practice the Faith throughout their lives without taking that one crucial step, without turning to Jesus, without developing a personal relationship with the Risen LORD, without allowing him access to their inmost selves. Yes, the practice of the Faith without that “come to Jesus meeting” is burdensome.
When we do come to Jesus, i.e., open our heart to him in the power of the Spirit, how does he teach us, what does he show us, how does he change us? The answer is not found in any textbook, but it is found in today’s Gospel where Jesus invites us to listen in and participate as he prays to his heavenly Father. In that prayer, Jesus thanks the Father for revealing the deepest mysteries of his life not to those who claim to be religious experts, but to those who are “meek and mild”, to those who are unencumbered by their self-importance. Only those who throw off the dual burdens of sin and self-righteousness are ready to receive all that the Father has given to Jesus, namely, the Holy Spirit … the Spirit who brings us into intimate contact with the love of the Father and the Son. This is what Jesus, meek and humble of heart, invites us to share in. When we truly encounter this love and begin to understand, even if imperfectly, the depth and beauty of God’s love for us, then, the Faith is no longer a burden but a source of life, strength, and joy.
Think of it this way. Married love requires enormous sacrifices on the part of husbands and wives. The burdens of raising and supporting a family are heavy, as most of you know far better than I. But when those burdens are borne in mutual and lasting love, they become, somehow, not only bearable, but even light. That is also true of our holy Catholic faith. No martyr, no saint, no serious Catholic will tell you it is easy to be fully Catholic. But the saints do tell us that once we have fallen deeply in love with Jesus, so much so that he is the center of our lives and that we live for love of him, then the burdens of life and the moral demands of the Gospel are light indeed. For example, St. Paul, who suffered for the Faith far more than we do, wrote: “…this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Or, as the Jesuit priest, St. Claude la Colombière, put it, “It is easy to do things which we know will please one whom we love . . . .”
The Role of Eucharistic Adoration
How, then, to fall deeply in love with Jesus … with Jesus who is “meek and mild” … with Jesus who invites us to come and learn from him … with Jesus who calls us to become participants in the eternal love he shares with the Heavenly Father? One important key to intimate love with Jesus is Eucharistic Adoration, i.e., to say, spending quality time, whenever possible, before the Blessed Sacrament, praying to Jesus, just as Jesus prayed to his Heavenly Father. Here is where we find rest from our labors and relief from our burdens, for in the Eucharist, we encounter the loving heart of the Savior.
Sometimes, when we lay aside our activities and make our way before the Tabernacle, we find ourselves pouring out our troubles and burdens to the LORD. At other times, we may not know quite what to say, but really, few words are needed. All we need to be is “meek and humble of heart”, like Jesus, so as to absorb into our inmost soul the love he pours out for us in the Eucharist. It is there, that life becomes no longer a burden, but an opportunity for holiness. It is there, that our faith becomes no longer a burden, but a source of consolation … and more than that, a source of joy and strength to bear whatever life throws at us. It is there, before Jesus in the Eucharist, that you and I are truly evangelized!
May God bless us and keep us always in his love!