On this feast of St. Catherine of Siena, let us begin with something she wrote in Dialogue, a series of conversations between God the Father and the soul. This, as you’ll certainly have guessed, is God the Father speaking:
“Do you know daughter, who you are and who I am? If you know these two things you have beatitude in your grasp. You are she who is not, I AM HE WHO IS.”
Talk about a dose of humility – but deeper down this is such a liberating reminder. We don’t have to carry it all – we don’t have to do it all. That’s God’s job, not ours, and He wants us to be His. Knowing our place, and knowing His place, is at the core of a blessed life (beatitude). This liberating reminder is reinforced by Jesus in today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 11: 25-30):
You have hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to little childrenJesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. 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 and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’
Do we really want to be the “wise” adults?
Jesus starts out by praising and thanking God for “hiding these things from the learned and the clever”. Not only does he simply state that God has done this hiding, but makes the point that this is a great thing to have done, worthy of praise. Why? Jesus knows that this is the wrong path and He’s grateful that God is making it clearer to us.
Another way to think of who He’s referring to are those that consider themselves “self-sufficient”. They expect to stand on their own merits, their own strength. Through learning and cleverness, they can get what they need. This kind of attitude doesn’t need God, regardless of the lip service they may pay to Him. At the heart of this is pride, one of the enemy’s most effective roots of sin.
In modern times, we see this discretely hidden in things that look “good” – a deception the enemy is notorious for. Those proclaiming the power of the mind, the capability of humans, the strength and power within…these all look and feel right, until you realise that they’re leaving little room for God to be the source. When the claim is that the source is you and not God, it’s a sharp detour away from the path that Christ has laid out for us. Pride enters as we begin to take credit for what we’re doing and what we have – and we’re quickly setting ourselves up for another fall. It’s the sin of Adam all over again – attempting to be like God.
Being more child-like
To combat this, Jesus reminds us that the path to follow is that of children. This is a stark contrast to the extreme of a “self-sufficient” powerful person. Think of how society looks at children – they’re seen as “dependents”, people who need to be supervised as it’s assumed they don’t know how to behave properly yet. In many parts of modern society, they’re looked down upon or worse, seen as a burden.
This is what Jesus is asking us to be – children that are completely dependent on Him. To be people that know we need His supervision – that without it we’re going to make messes of our lives. Acknowledging that we really don’t know how to behave properly yet – but that we’re learning from Jesus Himself (as opposed to the norms of society). These are the people that Jesus will readily teach, and He does so through Scripture and in Prayer. This is who we’re called to be and these channels of instruction are available to us all – at all times.
Carrying our burdens alone
Another attribute of children is their joy at receiving help when work needs to be done, particularly when it’s work they’ve been asked to take part in. Rarely do you see a 3 year old tell his mother to go away, he wants to clean his room on his own. Children haven’t yet been conditioned to think that they need to shoulder the burden on their own.
Whether it’s through our schooling years or in our early careers, at some point this goes away and we’re led to believe that we need to be capable of bearing large burdens – and worse, that it’s not “proper” to share these or even to show that we’re straining under the weight of them. So many people have carried alone and suffered in silence, not realising or aware that it doesn’t have to be this way.
As we stop trying to be the “adults” (those learned and clever) who are complying with this unhealthy and unsustainable norm and be more child-like, we willingly put that burden down and run to our parents for love, support and rest.
It takes two
Take a look at this picture of a yoke:
Before I saw what one actually looked like, I always internalised this passage as putting my burden down and taking up Jesus’ – for example, putting down my own cross and attempting to take up His. While that’s noble, there’s something even more beautiful hidden in Jesus’ word choice.
A yoke requires two oxen. You can’t have one ox, it would be out of balance – a second is required. What Jesus is inviting us to do is be that second one. He’s already there but He wants us to join in so that the work can be done. The work I’m referring to is the specific work that each of us was created to do. For reasons of His own, He wants us to play a role in His plan – that yoke is our chance to do so, pulling right alongside him.
This makes it more clear to me around why the burden is so light – because GOD is pulling right alongside us! There’s no need to question who’s pulling more of the weight. What a gift to us. We can put down our heavy (and solitary) burden, participate in the salvation of humanity and do so in an easier, gentler and more grace-filled manner.
Seems unfair that this is what He’s offering…yet so few of us take it up. For whatever reason, we’re too busy and tired from carrying our own burdens. We have the noise of the world too often reinforcing the conditioning of how things are supposed to be – how we’re expected to be “adults”.
Let today be different. Consciously and intentionally acknowledge to Jesus that you would rather join Him. Ask Him to take your burden from you – to help you let go of it – and start to discern where He’s leading you now that you’re standing right alongside him with His yoke on your shoulders. Then go do the work He’s designed you to do today with Him.
Jesus reminds of the reward for all of this. We will find rest for our souls. As we work with Him in this life, that rest comes from our letting go. In the next, eternal rest awaits.