Thursday July 15, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Isaiah 26:7-9, 12, 16-19) Gospel (St. Matthew 11:28-30)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord invites us to come to Himself because His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Yet when we compare that to what we hear in the first reading – O Lord, oppressed by Your punishment, we cried out in anguish under Your chastising – it does not sound like it is too terribly light or easy, but the reality of what Our Lord is telling us is that if we come to Him He will give us His strength. That does not mean we are not going to feel exhausted, it does not mean we are just going to ride a wave and nothing is going to touch us, but rather what it means is that the strength of God is going to be given to us, that in the midst of all the struggles and difficulties we are going to have to face He is the one who is going to give us His grace and His strength to be able to do the work.
This is, again, exactly what we hear in the prophet Isaiah. He says straight out that all the things they have done the Lord has accomplished, and that is the same thing we really have to be able to say. Most of us like to think it is our own doing and we like to take all the credit for it, but it is the Lord Who has done it. Now the question we have to look at for ourselves is to ask exactly the question about what is there in the prophet Isaiah. Can we say this of ourselves: Your name and Your title are the desire of our souls. My soul yearns for You in the night; my spirit within me keeps vigil for You? Is that the way we are? Is God really the first in our lives? Do we want to be with Him? Do we seek Him? Is He the desire of our souls? That is really what we have to be about because it is only when He is that desire of our souls, only when He is truly the top priority in our lives, that we are even going to think to turn to Him and ask Him for the help we need. It is only then that in the midst of all our struggles and our exhaustion that we are actually going to allow ourselves to let Him be our strength because most of us just keep trying to do it by ourselves.
One has to wonder just how thick our skulls are that it has taken this long to figure out that we cannot do it by ourselves. But what is worse is that with the thickness of skull comes a smallness of brain, obviously, and we still have not figured it out. We admit that we cannot do it by ourselves – and then we keep trying! What is it going to take? How much exhaustion do we need before we finally say, “Lord, You know what? You have to do this! I can’t!” And it is not only in the midst of exhaustion, but it is only when we learn the lesson that even when we are feeling great that we are still going to give it all to Him because we know we cannot do it. On very, very rare occasions when we know we cannot do it, we might actually tell the Lord, “You have to do this because I know I can’t.” But that is about the only time most of us will actually give it over to Him.
So we need, through prayer, to get to that point of being able to say, “Your name and your title are the desire of my soul; that is what I desire more than anything else.” It is then that we are going to keep vigil in our hearts for Him, that we are going to seek Him, that we are going to desire Him. That is when we are going to find that He will in fact take up our burden for us, that He will give us the strength we need. The difficulty in all of this for us is, again, it is a control issue, and none of us likes to give up control. We like to be in control, what a joke! What have we controlled so far, and what has happened when we have tried to be in control? Once again, one would think we would have learned by now. If we would just give up the control and give it over to God... Now that sounds like a nice idea, but it does not come easily. Try as we may, control is something that literally needs to be ripped out of our hands and we have to be crushed before we are willing to do it. That is why all the struggles and difficulties occur. That is what the prophet is talking about. They were oppressed by His punishment and cried out in anguish under His chastising, but it was through that that they were willing to let go and give everything over to God, to realize there was nothing they could do on their own.
It is the same with us. If we are going to take up the Lord’s yoke – which is His Cross – and carry His burden – which is ourselves – then we have to seek Him and we have to realize that we are going to fall under the Cross. We are going to be crushed by our own foolishness, but then, with God’s strength, we will be able to get up and we will be able to do the work that He is asking us to do without any problem. Our human weakness will still be there, but the divine strength is going to take over. But that means we have to get out of the way and let Him do it. The only way we are ever willing to get out of the way is when we get crushed. So that is the price. And that is the question we really have to ask: Am I willing to do it? Do I really want it? We like the idea of having God be the strength, we like the idea of doing God’s Will, but we do not like the idea of what it requires. We cannot have it both ways; if we are going to be able to do the one, we have to be able to accept what it requires to get there. We need to pray and we need to ask Him to do it, to do whatever He has to do to crush us down, to tear the control out of our fingers, so that we will be able to do His Will, to take up His yoke, His burden, and find rest for our souls.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.