The National Catholic Review
Before I said my first mass an old priest gave me two great pieces of advice. "You know when the congregation is filled with optimists. After you have given a long series of announcements at the end of Mass and then you say, "and finally" - people take out their car keys!" The second was, "Never underestimate the burdens people bring with them into the Church. Often we have little idea of the difficulties and pain our parishioners will be carrying." I can only imagine the anxiety and burden some people carry to the Eucharist. Whatever it is, Jesus invites us to let go of it, if only for a while, and be at peace. Now all this "come and rest a while" talk can be very pious and not sound all that in touch with reality. The Gospel, however, came from the community of the Apostle Matthew and was probably written in Jerusalem about 45 years after Jesus’ death. We know that this community experienced intense suffering and heavy burdens. They had been expelled from the Synagogue and were being martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. No wonder they held so strongly to the words, "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest". And they found consolation in Jesus’ example, "take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart." There have been times, however, when Christianity has been guilty of trying to spiritually wallpaper over some tough realities rather than preaching that God is our companion in facing up to whatever our reality is and dealing with it. Our faith is not about praying away our problems or fears and wishing it were otherwise. Our faith means we have experienced the love of God in Jesus Christ so that we never carry our burdens alone. God is our companion and guide and as with every Christian community we are called to be the sort of place wherein we carry each other’s burdens and rest with each other awhile. What we celebrate here each Sunday is that God will have the last word, a just, joyous, loving and peaceful word, in this world and when we enter our final rest. Jesus didn’t come to us as a divine magician, waving a wand over our problems to wipe away all our tears. Rather, he accompanies us so he can show us that the gift of peace and a release from our life’s burdens is often found in having the perspective to exercising the gift of right judgement. Making the best possible choices leads to the alleviation of our pain and difficulties. This type of spiritual sanity reminds me of the story of the nun who was trying to be a trendy catechist with the communion class, and draw an analogy about how food is essential to life. She asked the class, "What’s small and furry and eats nuts?" To which there was bemused silence. So Sister tried again. "What’s small and furry and eats nuts?" There was now stony silence. Sister then picked out Billy and asked him for the answer. After several awkward moments, Billy tentatively replied, "Sister, I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus, because the answer to all your questions is always Jesus but, I got to tell you, it sounds like a bloody squirrel to me." Sometimes the answer is not simply "Jesus". As we all know, for some of our difficulties, there is no spiritual quick fix. There is no cheap grace. The answer is not simply Jesus. In confronting issues, however, it is necessary for spiritual and mental health to take time out, to be as gentle with ourselves as possible and to know that the burden of life is best shared with others. We often never know the burdens others are carrying. Our prayer is that all of might know a moment’s rest, the companionship of fellow travellers and the gift of Christ’s peace. Richard Leonard, S.J.