A few years ago there was a TV commercial – It was for monster.com, the find-a-job website – depicting a steady stream of kids telling us what they wanted to be when they grew up. One after another, they said such things as: I want to be underappreciated; I want to be a yes-man; I want to file papers all day… on and on they went…Of course it was a parody, all very tongue-in-cheek. It was funny because few children think that way.
I certainly didn’t. When I was a kid the last thing I wanted to be when I grew up was ordinary. I didn’t want some 9 to 5 job. I didn’t want to live an ordinary life, in some ordinary place…not at all. And I certainly didn’t expect a nice, ordinary retirement in a place like The Villages…
You see, as a child, everything around me seemed dull and predictable, all very ordinary. And I wanted an extraordinary life. I couldn’t wait to grow up. I wanted to do exciting things. I wanted adventure. I wanted to be like Steve Canyon or Terry and the Pirates. If those names mean nothing to you, ask someone who’s older. They’ll fill you in.
As it turned out, much of my life was fairly exciting and adventurous, and I was blessed to be a part of some rather extraordinary events. But even they were exceptions. Most of my life was actually pretty ordinary. I married a wonderful, and very extraordinary, woman, settled down, raised four wonderful children, and ended up doing all those normal things husbands and fathers do. As time passed, ever more quickly, I was struck by the reality that those adventures of the past, those remarkable experiences are now just memories. They can’t be re-lived. They’re gone forever. Life just evolves into the ordinary.
How many of us, to compensate for the ordinary in our lives, try all the harder to make retirement something more…to make retirement extraordinary, just like The Villages commercial. Well, folks, look around and you’ll see the answer. It doesn’t take long to realize life in a retirement community isn’t really like the commercial.
Oh, the stress of the workplace may be gone, but for many it’s simply replaced by something else. When we were younger we went to Mass on Sunday and sat in the pew, trying not to think about work and the crises we’d face on Monday morning. Today only the worries have changed. Now you worry about the tests your doctor did last Tuesday...or about your son-in-law who just lost his job…or how you rarely visit your 93-year-old mother in the nursing home...or if you can afford to help your granddaughter who didn’t get that scholarship.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way in retirement. Too many of us are left uninspired, neither healed nor reconciled, not prayerful, or even very thankful. Sunday Mass and the Eucharist become a habit. We focus more on the quality of our parking space. Oh, we pray, hoping God understands; and then find ourselves right back where we started: hoping for the extraordinary in the midst of all the ordinary.
Then we hear the words: “Come to me…”
“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” [Mt 11:28-30].
Rest! It sounds so tempting, so inviting, so easy. It sounds too easy. What’s the catch, Jesus? Where’s the fine print? If there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that nothing in this world comes easy. There’s always a price.
And yet, these words don’t go away. The idea of finding rest – of laying down our burdens, of being able to rely on another – simply won’t let us go. No, they don’t go away and they won’t let us go because these words are God’s Word. They’re Jesus Himself, the Incarnate Word of God. And the Word says, I’m not leading you to the answer, or selling you the answer, or bargaining with you about the answer. I AM the answer.
How many of us, despite a loving spouse, dear family and friends, despite successful careers, and yes, despite our profession of faith…how many feel we’re running alone in this life?
You see, brothers and sisters, God is always calling …but so many respond only when they’re weary enough, frustrated enough, wounded enough, empty enough, to hear His invitation: “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” [Mt 11:28-29]
This is an odd thing Jesus says. It doesn’t seem to make sense does it? Lay down your burdens and strap on a yoke? And this will give us peace and rest? Very odd indeed. And yet, that’s exactly how it works. Taking up the yoke of Christ lashes us to Him. In a way it aligns us; it straightens us out. It allows us to walk with Him, to work with Him, to work for Him.
The yoke of Christ binds us intimately to Jesus, intimately to the Trinity. The yoke of Christ changes us from solitary and exhausted runners, runners searching for finish lines that aren’t there. It changes us into disciples willing to surrender all to a loving God, disciples who experience the peace of Christ because we recognize Christ in others.
And the yoke of Christ binds us to each other. How did Mother Teresa put it? “If we have no peace, it is because we’ve forgotten we belong to each other.” Did you know that? That we are bound to each other with the yoke of Christ? That we belong to each other? That the homeless, the dying, the hungry, the unborn, the disabled – they belong to you and you to them?
That the imprisoned criminal – the murderer, the rapist, the pedophile – yes, even those who commit the most evil acts – that Jesus Christ wants to save them too, and that He wants to do so through us. He wants to save Democrats and Republicans, Communists, Socialists, and Fascists. He wants to save terrorists and abortionists. He wants us all bound to each other through Him.
Do we really believe we belong to each other…to all of us? Or just to those we like, to those we tolerate? Can we accept the Gospel, without compromise? If we want God’s peace in our lives, we must. And what peace it is. It’s not the peace the world offers, the phony peace and happiness promised by politicians, or self-help gurus, or commercials. No, it’s the peace only God can give.
To receive it, we must take up the yoke of Christ. It sets us free from all the foolishness of the world, from its false pride, and allows us to accept humbly the truth of what life in this world is really all about.
But the yoke of Christ doesn’t prevent all pain. It doesn’t remove our sorrows and burdens. No, indeed, when we take up the yoke of Christ we also join Him on the Cross. But it’s a shared cross, and so, again, the yoke is easy. It teaches us these burdens of life can be shared. They can be transformed, taken up into the heart of God Himself, and returned to us as life.
“Come to me!” Jesus calls to each of us. Stop running your race to nowhere. Stop running from My voice. Turn, listen and respond. Come to me! It’s the invitation of a lifetime and it comes with a promise: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” [Jn 10:10].
You see, brothers and sisters, God yearns, with all the passion of a lover, to give Himself to us, to take us forever into His embrace. St. John explained this when He wrote: “Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice for our sins” [1 Jn 4:10].
God wants nothing – He wants no thing – from us, except ourselves. And once we accept this…Once we come to Him with nothing but ourselves…Once we deposit all our sorrow and exhaustion and striving at His Heart’s door…Once we decide we want to be His disciple when we grow up…
Then, in exchange for our weakness, our arrogance, all our sins, He will give us the greatest gift imaginable. He will give us Himself. And there’s nothing ordinary about that.