Coming to, Yoking Ourselves to, and Learning the Incarnate YHWH, 15th Thursday (I), July 20, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Apollinaris
July 20, 2017
Ex 3:13-20, Ps 105, Mt 11:28-30

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Yesterday we focused on how God reveals himself and seeks to enter into a personal relationship with us but in order for that to occur we must have a childlike receptivity through entering into Jesus’ own filiation. Today in the readings, Jesus deepens the understanding we need to have of those realities and shows us ever more the means. He gives us three powerful verbs to characterize the means by which he seeks to incorporate us into his own childlike sensitivity.
  • The first is “come”: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened.” It would seem at first a non-sequitur to Jesus’ words that we had yesterday, that in order to perceive God’s self-revelation we need to be like children and see the Father in Jesus. But it’s not unconnected. The way we are going to be able to learn how to grow more deeply in spiritual childhood is precisely through our labors and burdens, through our hardships and sacrifices. These experiences are those who make us run to God the Father like a young child hearing powerful thunder for the first time runs to earthly parents. Jesus extends to us this invitation to enter as children more and more deeply into God’s revelation precisely through all that we’re going through, through all the various obstacles and challenges. He says if we do, he will give us “rest,” he will “refresh” us. The word translated “refresh” (or poorly translated as give us rest, which we are tempted to misinterpret as inactivity) actually means “remake.” Jesus wants to give us a totally fresh start, a new beginning, to bring us back to our spiritual infancy. In Psalm 23, we pray in anticipation of this remaking, “The Lord is my Shepherd. There is nothing I lack. In green pastures you lead me to grace and besides restful waters you refresh [remake] me.” He thoroughly remakes us in his image and baptism and that life is meant to continue. And he does that not by removing us from work and difficulties but precisely through our labors and hardships.
  • The second action Jesus commands is to “take” or “assume.” Jesus tells us “Take my yoke upon you.”  Jesus doesn’t tell us to bend down and let him put the yoke on us. He wants us to seize it. He wants us to want it. What’s that yoke? We know that a yoke is a harness — Jesus doubtless used the make them as a carpenter in Joseph’s shop in Nazareth —  to unite two animals so that they might work in tandem. Jesus wants us to take up “his” yoke and his yoke is the patibulum of the Cross. Later he’ll say that his yoke is “easy,” which means that it is “easy-fitting,” it’s tailor-made, for us, to unite us to him, like the Cross on Calvary was the shoe that fit perfectly Simon of Cyrene’s feet. In the first reading, God revealed himself to Moses as “I Am Who Am,” and Jesus is the incarnation of the great “I Am.” But he revealed him most precisely in his passion and he wants us to pick up our Cross every day so we might be yoked to him with the yoke of the Cross from the inside out.  In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus mentions that he is I AM on several occasions linked to his Passion. He says, “When you lift up the Son of Man [obviously on the Cross!], then you will realize that I AM” (Jn 8:28), saying that “if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins” (Jn 8:24). He takes away our sins when we yoke ourselves to the mercy of I AM. with regard to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he said to the Jews in the Temple who were plotting to murder him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM” (Jn 8:58). During the Last Supper, after he reveals that one of them will be his betrayer, he says, “I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM” (Jn 13:18). Later, when Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the middle of his Passion, he asks the group of 200 soldiers who had come for him who they were looking for. When they said, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus replied, “I AM” and we’re told that all of these armed men fell over because of the power of what was said, as if they grasped what he was indicating (Jn 18:5). We will come to know Christ personally, to know God personally, to experience his life, his immanent relations and the relationship he desires to have with us, precisely through yoking ourselves to him. But there’s another aspect of this yoke which is very important to ponder. To be yoked with Jesus is literally to be con (with) jugum (yoke), to be his spouse, his conjugal partner. When Jesus says “Come,” he’s proposing, and when he says “Take,” we’re called to respond, “I take you as my spouse, … for better or worse, in sickness or in health, all the days of my life.” To be yoked to Jesus means to live the spousal Covenant with Jesus all our days, and when we are living together with him, we find that our burdens are light and sweet because of the mutual love with Jesus that changes their weight and bitterness. That spousal covenant with Christ is consummated on the marriage bed of the Cross and that is the way, St. Edith Stein teaches us, that we become Brides of Christ on the Cross.
  • The third way we grow in spiritual childhood to receive God’s revelation, Jesus says, is to “learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for yourselves.” The way we learn from Jesus is not in a classroom seated on a chair. It’s by being yoked in this loving covenantal bond with Jesus. And when we are living in that union, then we not only learn “from” Jesus, but, as the Greek of St. Matthew’s Gospel says more literally, we learn Jesus. He tells us to “learn me.” We learn his humility, which is the capacity to see ourselves as we really are before God and others and how much we need God. We learn his meekness, which is the self-disciplined tameness that allows us calmly to find our strength in HIm. We’ve got so much to learn from him, but we first must come, then we must take on his yoke, we must spousally unite ourselves to him permanently, and then we will learn from him all we need.
  • The martyrs show us precisely how to yoke ourselves to the great I am in our work of spreading the Gospel and the hardships and sufferings that come to us on account of the Gospel. St. Apollonaris suffered so much to spread the faith as the first bishop of Ravenna. Ordained by St. Peter and sent to the northeast of what is now Italy, he sowed the seeds of the Gospel, where eventually a thriving Church developed and one of the great cultural centers in early Christianity as seen in the tremendous mosaics that remain. In preaching, however, he suffered a great deal for proclaiming the Gospel, being exiled multiple times, tortured and eventually martyred. But he was yoked to Jesus, the incarnate I AM (YHWH), and his sufferings were thereby made sweeter and lighter as he learned Jesus’ own meekness and humility and manifested it in such a way that many others were brought to Christ. As Tertullian would say about a century after his martyrdom, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.
  • The great place where we respond to Jesus’ invitation to receive God’s self-revelation within the mystery of his own divine filiation, the way we seize Christ’s spousal yoke of the Cross and learn him, is here at Mass. It’s at Mass that Jesus says,  “Come to me, all you who labor and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.” He seeks to remake us here by his word, by his own body and blood, by his community, so that in this two-fold communion we might face all those labors and burdens. It’s here at Mass that he says, “Take my yoke upon you.” This is where we enter into a conjugal union, a yoke together with him, from the inside out. It’s here at Mass he says, “Learn me,” as he seeks to teach us and make us sharers in all his virtues. It’s through Holy Communion that we become one with him as the great teacher continues to teach and remake us so that we may together with him bear abundant fruit that will last. Before Mass, the last prayer a priest says as he is vesting is over the chasuble he dons, and it’s all about this mystery of yoking ourselves to Christ in the Mass. The priest prays, “Domine, qui dixisti iugum meum suave est, et onus meum leve: fac, ut istud portare sic valeam, quod consequar tuam gratiam. Amen” “Lord you have said, ‘My yoke is sweet and My burden light,’ grant that I may be worthy so carry [this yoke] as to obtain your grace.” We pray for the grace to carry the yoke of the Lord, to carry the Cross, to unite ourselves fully to the Passion, like St. Apollinaris. That is our prayer as the Lord, each day, seeks to make all our burdens sweet and light through our uniting them to him for the salvation of the world.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Ex 3:13-20

Moses, hearing the voice of the LORD from the burning bush, said to him,
“When I go to the children of Israel and say to them,
‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’
if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?”
God replied, “I am who am.”
Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the children of Israel:
I AM sent me to you.”God spoke further to Moses,
“Thus shall you say to the children of Israel:
The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,
has sent me to you.“This is my name forever;
this my title for all generations.
“Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and tell them:
The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
has appeared to me and said:
I am concerned about you
and about the way you are being treated in Egypt;
so I have decided to lead you up out of the misery of Egypt
into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites,
Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites,
a land flowing with milk and honey.
“Thus they will heed your message.
Then you and the elders of Israel
shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him:
“The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent us word.
Permit us, then, to go a three-days’ journey in the desert,
that we may offer sacrifice to the LORD, our God.
“Yet I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go
unless he is forced.
I will stretch out my hand, therefore,
and smite Egypt by doing all kinds of wondrous deeds there.
After that he will send you away.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 105:1 and 5, 8-9, 24-25, 26-27

R. (8a) The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Give thanks to the LORD, invoke his name;
make known among the nations his deeds.
Recall the wondrous deeds that he has wrought,
his portents, and the judgments he has uttered.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
or:
R. Alleluia.
He remembers forever his covenant
which he made binding for a thousand generations—
Which he entered into with Abraham
and by his oath to Isaac.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
or:
R. Alleluia.
He greatly increased his people
and made them stronger than their foes,
Whose hearts he changed, so that they hated his people,
and dealt deceitfully with his servants.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
or:
R. Alleluia.
He sent Moses his servant;
Aaron, whom he had chosen.
They wrought his signs among them,
and wonders in the land of Ham.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia Mt 11:28

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 11:28-30

Jesus said:
“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.”