Wednesday December 10, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week of Advent
Reading (Isaiah 40:25-31) Gospel (St. Matthew 11:28-30)
In the Gospel reading, Our Lord tells us that if we come to Him we will find rest for ourselves because His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Now, on one level, if anyone has either read the lives of any of the saints or has earnestly tried to do the Will of God, you know that it is not always an easy task when one looks at it objectively. That is, sometimes what God will ask of us is very, very difficult (even sometimes rather painful) because He will ask us to do things that we would not naturally want to do. There are times when we will be feeling exhausted and He will send someone else to ask us to make an act of charity, to ask us to go beyond what we would want to do and seek the Will of God. Our natural inclination in a case like that is to say, “No, I’m too tired,” and the Lord is going to ask us to do what is right anyway. Other times, He is going to ask us to give things up that are very important to us; but, unfortunately, they are more important to us than perhaps God is in some ways. They stand between us and the Lord. Therefore, He asks that we would get rid of them, that we will purge our lives of these things that are really in the way. And so we have to make a choice to do it God’s way.
Each time, when on the natural level we would want to say “no” and yet we respond spiritually and say “yes” to God, we find, actually, that there is freedom. We find joy that we did not know before, we find an ease that we have never known, and we find that rest. The rest that the Lord is talking about comes only in prayer, in that deep interior prayer. And when we enter into that prayer, it does not matter how exhausted we are, it does not matter how flustered we might be from all the flurry of things that happen. When you read the lives of the saints, you will note that most of the things that happen always go wrong and so it is very unusual that everything is just going to be easy for them. It is not like they go to prayer saying, “This was just the perfect morning because everything fell into place exactly the way I thought it was supposed to.” Rather when they go to prayer it is usually because most everything they have tried to do has not gone the way they expected it to and they realize that they are not in control and God is. One of the ways He lets us know we are not in control is that He does not let it go the way we thought that it should, otherwise, we would think ourselves to be in complete control of what was happening.
But when we go to prayer and we enter into that depth then we find that peace in the soul. The difference between most of us and the saints is that they are able to keep that peace and that rest throughout the day because they are able to maintain that recollection throughout the day even in the midst of their work. That is how it is that when things do not go the way they expected it to that they are able to stay at peace when most of us get quite flustered and upset. But, for us, we need to learn how to do that, and that begins only by having that time for prayer when we can put all the chaos and all the difficulties aside and we can place our focus on Christ. When our hearts are focused solely on Him then we just settle down and we rest in Christ.
So when He tells us to come to Him if we are burdened and laboring and He will give us rest, when He tells us to take His yoke upon us, He is not saying that He is going to make life easy in the worldly sense of that; but rather what He is telling us is that if we do it His way we will find the peace that we are seeking because we will know that we are doing what is right. He will give us the strength. That is how the Lord can say through Isaiah that you will run and not grow weary, you will walk and not grow faint. The Lord keeps providing the grace. Anyone who has been there knows fully well that what happens over and over again is that you are going to say, “I don’t know how this is working; I don’t know how I’m able to do this. It doesn’t make any sense; I should be flat on my back by now.” Yet somehow the Lord keeps providing the grace and we keep on going. That is exactly the way it works.
If we put our focus on Jesus instead of on ourselves, if we have our focus on Him instead of on all the things we have to do, then He will give us the grace to do all of those things, to do it with a sense of peace, and to have the strength and the energy that we need to be able to accomplish them beyond anything that we ever would have expected from our own selves. And we will be able to do it in a way that is peaceful and that the soul can be at rest, because if we do it the Lord’s way, to take His yoke upon our shoulders, He is the One Who will give us rest. He is the One Who will strengthen us to be able to do anything, and we will be able to do it with a sense of peace and with the greatest knowledge that He alone is the One Who is accomplishing all of His works in us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.