Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent
December 7, 2016
Is 40:25-31, Ps 103, Mt 11:28-30
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily please click below:
The following points were attempted in this homily:
- As we have been discussing, in Advent there is a triple dynamism: Christ comes to us in history, mystery and majesty; we run out to embrace him; and then, having encountered him, we then go out united with him to complete the work he wants to do in us and through us for the salvation for the world. We ponder this triple reality in today’s readings. As Jesus is coming to us, he says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” Jesus calls us in the midst of our work, he calls us in the context of all our struggles and difficulties, to come to him to find rest our bodies and souls need. But the rest Jesus offers is not what normally we would anticipate. For most of us we would anticipate that rest would mean a vacation from our labors or the elimination or a respite from our burdens. Jesus offers something else. It’s a yoke. “Take my yoke upon you,” he says, “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.” The yoke Jesus offers is something that will harness ourselves to him, so that we will do everything together with him just as a yoke binds two oxen to work together. That yoke is his Cross, which is not so much a sign of pain but of the love that makes even the pain of crucifixion bearable. To be united with the Lord who comes and calls us to come to him is to be united to that love that makes Jesus’ yoke of the Cross easy-fitting and light and what we bring to the yoke easier and lighter.
- Jesus calls us to yoke ourselves to him in such a way that we will learn from him his meekness and humility. God’s great strength is not exercised in the way the strong of the world often flex their muscles. Yoked to the Lord, we’re not going to become heavyweight boxing champions of the world. We see the way Jesus himself exercises his strength in the Gospel. He calls us to learn from him, because he is “meek and humble of heart.” Meekness is not weakness. The Greek word for “meek” means the self-discipline and power of a martial arts expert, or a tremendously agile athlete, of a well-trained, docile horse, capable of action and reaction at a simple bump. Real strength is not shown in pummeling any and all adversaries, but often in resisting doing so even though one could. That’s why St. Paul will say about Christ crucified, that he is the power and the wisdom of God. Yoking ourselves to Jesus allows us to learn this meekness from him, so that in the midst of our labors and burdens we’re not mugged but like a black belt use what is thrown at us to help us achieve what we want to rather than to obstruct that goal. Yoked to Jesus our sufferings and work help purify us and help sanctify the world. Likewise yoked to Jesus we learn how to grow in humility through our work and burdens. The Season of Advent helps us to focus on humility as we prepare for Christmas and the unbelievable humility that God showed not only in taking on our human nature, but taking on great poverty, being born in a borrowed cave, placed in an ancient animal trough, wrapped in swaddling clothes rather than regal garments, eventually working himself as a carpenter, and experiencing the normal burdens of life. In all of these humbling circumstances, Jesus was carrying out his work of salvation, which is something each of us can and ought to learn from him, because we, too, united to him, can convert all the ordinary, humble circumstances of our day into opportunities to glorify God, love others, and grow in God’s image and likeness.
- The consequences of being yoked to Jesus are beautifully expressed by God through the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading. The Israelites are questioning whether they are “disregarded” by their God as they languish in exile. God first speaks about “his great might and the strength of his power” and then reminds them, “The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint nor grow weary.” When that God took on our nature to be yoked to us in an eternal communion, those divine properties can be gradually assimilated by us. Isaiah tells us that God “gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.” When we are united to the Lord, when we learn from him humility and meekness, when we yoke ourselves to God’s love, then our burdens and labors don’t weary us the way they wear others. We get a holy stamina to keep running without tiring, to keep walking without fainting, to keep giving and serving without counting the cost, just as Jesus did with regard to us. This doesn’t mean that a deep spiritual life takes away the physical necessities of sleep, rest, eating and normal care, but it does give us an energy, a motivation that can keep us going. The fundamental reason is because we start to do things for God and for others rather than for ourselves. We start focusing on God’s glory and others’ good more than our own comfort, and we find within not just a deeper human reserve than we were aware of, but a vastly greater spiritual reserve given by God. This is the source of the energy of the great saints, what made St. John Paul II vigorous and willing to continue flying across the Globe with Parkinson’s season. This is what led St. Mother Teresa to keep serving until her late 80s. This is what allows Pope Francis to keep the schedule he has as in ten days he turns 80. This is what allows so many priests and religious, lay leaders of St. Vincent de Paul conferences and many other disciples to continue teaching and caring and serving well past retirement age with an infectious joy that constantly rejuvenates. That happens because they’re yoked to Jesus in prayer, in the sacraments, in the Word, in charity and that’s where they get their energy.
- Today we celebrate the feast of someone who was yoked to God in these ways and helped many others to do so. At the beginning of Mass, we prayed, “O God, who made the Bishop St. Ambrose a teacher of the Catholic faith and a model of apostolic courage, raise up in your Church men after your own heart to govern her with courage and wisdom.” He was especially bound to the Lord in the Lord’s wisdom and in courage. In his young 30s, in the early 370s, St. Ambrose was prefect of Gaul — an enormous responsibility. He believed the Christian faith but he hadn’t yet been baptized. After the death of the Bishop of Milan, he went to where the election was to take place to make sure that there were no fights between the Orthodox Catholics of the time and the heretic Arians (who believed that Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived and chosen by God but not God). He gave a little speech reminding everyone of Christ’s teachings on peace and mutual love, at which point someone in the crowd began to shout “Ambrose, Bishop!” It soon started to be echoed by everyone, Catholics and Arians alike. He tried to run away from the responsibilities, but when the emperor Valentinian heard of the election, he consented to it, proud that he had chosen as Prefect someone with the virtues capable of serving as a Bishop. Eventually Ambrose was baptized, then ordained a deacon, a priest, and a bishop, on this day in 374. After his ordinations, he set himself to learning the Christian faith in such detail that he could really feed others with this nourishment — becoming eventually a doctor of the Church, one of the greatest teachers in the history of the faith. This required a great deal of study under the tutelage of a priest, Simplicianus, but he did it and grew by yoking himself to the Lord in Sacred Scripture. He taught by his example, constantly seeking to remind people of God’s mercy and making it a rule of life, harmonizing battling emperors, family members and others. St. Augustine, who was converted under his guidance, wrote that whenever he tried to speak with Ambrose, Ambrose was surrounded by a crowd of the needy, whom we would treat with great patience, helping to address their problems as if he were still addressing the great problems of the entire Province of Gaul. When a famine broke out, he sold many of the sacred vessels in order to care for the poor. When people suffered injustice, he risked his own life to challenge the wrong-doers, including the emperor, because he was yoked to the Lord in courage.
- Today Christ invites us to yoke ourselves to him in wisdom and courage so that we might bear similar fruit as yoked we go forward. And Jesus does that yoking principally through the Mass. The word in Latin for yoke is jugum and the expression to be yoked with someone is conjugum. That’s where we get our term “conjugal,” or “spousal,” because husbands and wives are yoked together for the rest of their life in one flesh. It’s here at Mass, in the consummation of Jesus the Bridegroom’s spousal union with us, his Bride, that we are yoked to him. It’s here in the Eucharist that he yokes himself to us with all our labors and burdens. It’s here he gives us repose. It’s here that we ponder in a special way his incredible humility hiding under the appearances of bread and wine and his meekness in adapting his care to us just as we are today. It’s from here that he wishes to send us out yoked to him to do our work, to run without growing weary and to walk without fainting, all the way home to heaven!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 IS 40:25-31
says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high
and see who has created these things:
He leads out their army and numbers them,
calling them all by name.
By his great might and the strength of his power
not one of them is missing!
Why, O Jacob, do you say,
and declare, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.
Responsorial Psalm PS 103:1-2, 3-4, 8 AND 10
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. O bless the Lord, my soul!
He pardons all your iniquities,
he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion.
R. O bless the Lord, my soul!
Merciful and gracious is the LORD,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.
R. O bless the Lord, my soul!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Behold, the Lord comes to save his people;
blessed are those prepared to meet him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 11:28-30
“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.”