JUNE 3, 2005, FEAST OF THE SACRED HEART- HOMILY: MT 11:25-30
COME TO ME ALL YOU WHO LABOR AND ARE BURDENED; TAKE MY YOKE ON YOURSELVES AND LEARN FROM ME FOR I AM MEEK AND HUMBLE OF HEART. These are among the most familiar words of the Gospel. That does not mean, however, that they are always well understood and still less that well put into practice. For one thing this translation is somewhat tamer in modern ears than the original text:‘all who labor’ is not a reference to the working class; rather, the Greek gives admits of a more lively impression ‘all you who are struggling along with a heavy load ’ (kopiontes kai pefortismenoi). In other words, it is to those who feel they are just getting by while giving all they have got. Those who feel no complacency about their achievements and status, who are have all they can manage to get through the day.
From my experience in life, after listening to people as a priest and physician for more than five decades, and reflecting on the human condition, it is evident that Jesus’ words apply to all classes. Matthew would seem to have realized this. Although Luke has Jesus saying in the first beatitude "Blessed are the poor", Matthew adds "in spirit". Here too, Jesus’ words include those who struggle with inner doubt, burdened with anxiety, struggling to meet responsibilities that are heavier than one’s strength, barely able to resist temptation however successful and competent a person may appear in the eyes of society. Who is there among us who does not find himself/herself at such a pass sometime or other in life? For us who follow the Cistercian way, it is essential to discover how badly we need the mercy of God because we cannot carry the weight of our call without the Lord’s gentle care. I remember when Dom Andre Louf’s book ‘The Cistercian Way’ was published I brought it with me for lectio to the General Chapter. I would read it every day at breakfast, and Dom Andre himself noticed it and after some days saw I had finished. He asked "How did you find the book?" I replied: "The best point you made was that the purpose of the ascetic life is to bring us to the point where we discover that the search for God is too much for us. So we look to Him as our only hope." He said in return: "You have understood me."
In this connection I recall an encounter I had some years ago with a very successful and competent lawyer, practicing in a major city. He came to the monastery in a state of high anguish hoping rather desperately to find the relief Jesus speaks of. He told me that he simply could not carry on longer with the weight of his position. "For years now everyone comes to me for advice and help; nobody is there for me to lean on." Happily, he seemed to find what he was looking for by the time he returned to his work and family. An even more striking instance I met with was a young physician on the staff of one of the best hospitals in the country. In his early 30's he won the gold metal for the best research in his field. He was at the top in everybody’s eyes but his own. He became seriously depressed, tempted even to suicide. He turned to the Lord and regained his balance. As he explained to me: "My problem was that having experienced the success for which I had been expending my best efforts, I found it did not satisfy; life seemed hollow, without substantial meaning."
And so, although Jesus showed a singular concern for the poor, the sick and the marginal, yet he also made himself accessible to the well to do: Nicodemus, Martha and Mary of Bethany, among others. He invited all to find the meaning of their struggles in yoking themselves to his cross. He went on to show by his example and in his teaching that he humility he taught is not a form of inferiority feeling, or self-doubt; rather, it is a strength of spirit that liberates and affirms one’s worth as a child of the Father in heaven. It is not be accident then that his words in this passage on humility follow his confident affirmation of self-worth based on the relation he has with his Father in heaven. "Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father: and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son." He adds a short phrase to this disclosure of the basis of his own dignity that he addresses to each of us today. No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
Humility, then, is not a weak yielding to unavoidable suffering. The humility that Christ teaches is the courageous fidelity of the children of God who are truly free. For by faith they experience that God so loves them that he gave his beloved Son on the cross that they might find their strength and worth in Him alone. It is the strength of a love that is stronger than the forces of evil and of death itself. May we take up this humility that results from the heartfelt love of our Lord who in this Eucharist associates us with himself, making us strong in the knowledge of the Father. For it is God himself, our Father, who, through the heart of his Son, gives us the Spirit and the force we need to bear the weight of our own freedom in the face of the world’s opposition and to consecrate it to the praise of his glory.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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