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. Kateri Tekakwitha
July 14, 2016
Is 26:7-9.12.16-19, Ps 102, 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:
- In today’s Gospel, Jesus brings to culmination all of his words and actions throughout the past week and a half about welcoming. It’s the way he puts into practice what he taught yesterday about the spiritual childlike receptivity we are called to have toward God’s self-revelation in his very person. Everything is encapsulated in three actions, three verbs, that he wants us to do in response to the grace of his entrance into the world, into our life.
- The first verb is come. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened.” It would seem at first a non-sequitur to his words that we had yesterday, that in order to perceive God’s self-revelation we need to be like children, even infants, 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. In the first reading, the people of Judah articulated some of those burdens through the prophet Isaiah when they said, “O Lord, oppressed by your punishment, we cried out in anguish. … As a woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pains, so were we in your presence, O Lord.” But these types of physical burdens were not the only ones being pointed out by Jesus. He was also describing were the spiritual burdens placed on their shoulders by the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus said about them that “they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them” (Mt 23:4). They were crushing people not merely under the bombardment of the 613 commandments contained in the Old Covenant but by their interpretation of them and of the strictures necessary not to come close to violating them. They were piling up duties without introducing them into a relationship with the God who gave the real commandments to train us how to love Him and love others. They were being instructed to carry those burdens without God and without love. Jesus wanted to help save them from those burdens. He called us to come to him so that he would “refresh” us. But they needed to make the effort to respond to Jesus’ own coming, and go to Jesus not only with our burdens and work but through them.
- 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. 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 action Jesus describes today is learn. “Learn from me,” he tells us, “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.
- We see this three verbs illustrated in the life of the saint whom the Church celebrates today, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a fellow New Yorker, a native American born in Auriesville, New York who was canonized by Pope Benedict four years ago. She was a Mohawk orphaned at a young age when smallpox decimated her village claiming the life of her parents and brother. She was raised by her uncle, the chief of the Turtle tribe, and two aunts, all of whom were fiercely resistant to Christianity. They sought to prevent her contact with the “black robes” (the Jesuit missionaries) — St. Isaac Jogues had died in their village just a decade before Kateri’s birth — and marry her off at a young age, but she had already been moved by a desire to give herself totally to God as a Christian. She sought instruction and baptism against the will of her uncle. In the midst of all of these burdens, she came to Christ and yoked herself to him. Even though familial and tribal loyalties are incredibly strong among the native Americans, after her baptism at the age of 19, she fled to Kahnawake, just south of Montreal, in order to learn Jesus better and continuously. There she dedicated herself to him in a life of prayer and mortification, adoring Jesus kneeling in the snow outside the Church before it would be opened early each morning and staying there until the last Mass was celebrated at night, sleeping on a bed of thorns in reparation for the sins of her tribe and for their conversion, caring for the sick and elderly. In worldly eyes, she was an insignificant, simple Indian with the residue of small pox on her face. But she had learned humility and meekness from Jesus and became more and more like him in a short time, dying at the age of 24, with her last words “Jesos Konoronkwa” (“Jesus, I love you”) as she passed into his eternal embrace.
- 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, so that we might, like St. Kateri, love Jesus and come to be ever more like him who is meek and humble of heart. 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.
Reading 1 IS 26:7-9, 12, 16-19
the path of the just you make level.
Yes, for your way and your judgments, O LORD,
we look to you;
Your name and your title
are the desire of our souls.
My soul yearns for you in the night,
yes, my spirit within me keeps vigil for you;
When your judgment dawns upon the earth,
the world’s inhabitants learn justice.
O LORD, you mete out peace to us,
for it is you who have accomplished all we have done.O LORD, oppressed by your punishment,
we cried out in anguish under your chastising.
As a woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pains,
so were we in your presence, O LORD.
We conceived and writhed in pain,
giving birth to wind;
Salvation we have not achieved for the earth,
the inhabitants of the world cannot bring it forth.
But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise;
awake and sing, you who lie in the dust.
For your dew is a dew of light,
and the land of shades gives birth.
Responsorial Psalm PS 102:13-14AB AND 15, 16-18, 19-21
You, O LORD, abide forever,
and your name through all generations.
You will arise and have mercy on Zion,
for it is time to pity her.
For her stones are dear to your servants,
and her dust moves them to pity.
R. From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.
The nations shall revere your name, O LORD,
and all the kings of the earth your glory,
When the LORD has rebuilt Zion
and appeared in his glory;
When he has regarded the prayer of the destitute,
and not despised their prayer.
R. From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.
Let this be written for the generation to come,
and let his future creatures praise the LORD:
“The LORD looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.”
R. From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.
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
“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.”