Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic, NOLA
Jesus tells the disciples that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Is this how we experience our lives in Christ? Light and easy? It's a fair question and one many of us ask. However, we shouldn't worry about doubting that the life we have chosen in Christ is light and easy. The demands of growing daily in holiness are few. All we need do is love God and others as God Himself loves us. Be merciful, avoid evil, witness with our every word and deed the way to salvation through Christ. The demands are few, but they are relentless – unwavering and constant. Even the smallest task done all day every day for years will eventually exhaust the strongest body and soul. It's not the weight of our work toward holiness that burdens us but the repetition this work requires that can send us into despair. Anyone can be holy, do holy work for an hour or a day. But being holy, doing holy work for a lifetime is much, much more difficult, if not impossible – well, impossible, that is, if holiness were measured by what we manage to accomplish in a lifetime, or measured against the perfection of achieved by Christ. His yoke is easy and light, and so is the life in Christ to which we have vowed ourselves. Isaiah shares the secret of being a follower and doing God's work: “The way of the just is smooth; the path of the just [God makes] level.”
If we experience our lives in Christ as a heavy burden is it probably because we believe that our work toward holiness includes the arduous task of clearing away the wreckage of our sin. How can I come to Christ and do and be what and who he demands if I am loaded down with the garbage of a dissolute life? Don't I need to be clean before I start down the Christian path? It makes sense to hold that nothing clean can come from a filthy source. We cannot do evil to achieve goodness. And this would make sense if we were talking about human goodness, human evil. But we're not. Isaiah says it plainly, it is God Himself who levels the steep hills, straightens the crooked paths, and sets us right by washing us clean. It is God Himself who prepares us for the work we must do. Christ's yoke on our shoulders is light and easy not because we come to him as self-made, ready-made holy men and women, but because the really hard work of our holiness has already been done for us. All we need do is persist, endure in the work. And even then we persist and endure only because of His grace.
If Christ's yoke is heavy and difficult around our necks it is likely because we ourselves weigh it down, because we ourselves have tried to put it on without Christ's help. Knowing that only Christ forgives us our sins, does it make sense to believe that we are burdened by sin and that we must come to Christ cleansed of that sin? Can sin remove sin? If you believe that you cannot take on Christ's yoke until you are strong enough to bear it, then how do you get strong enough w/o Christ? Can weakness strengthen weakness? Obviously not. The burden our Lord lifts is not only the actual sin that we carry but also the heavy and false belief that the job of lifting this burden is ours alone. It is not. Never has been. It is God's job to smooth the steep hills and straighten the crooked paths. Let Him do His work. It is your job to travel His smoothed-out, straightened-upped Way. Now, that your work is light and easy and the yoke around your neck is a joy, count yourself among the loved ones of the Lord, hurry to Him and find your rest.
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