Readings: Zech. 9.9-10; Ps. 145; Rom. 8.9-13; Mt. 11.25-30
On May 26, 1973, I was ordained a priest. One week later, my father suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed on the right
side, and unable to speak. He knew what he wanted to say, but the transition from ideas in his brain to the words in his mouth just did not work. A few
weeks after my dad's stroke, the Sunday gospel was this gospel. "Come to me, all you who labor and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest." For
my dad, my mother, and our whole family, life had become burdensome In a sudden and unexpected way. Within a few weeks, we had experienced the height of
joy at my ordination, and the nadir of sadness and helplessness on account of my dad's stroke. These words of the gospel had at that time, and continue
to have, great consolation for me: "Come to me, all you who labor and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest."
Think of your own experiences when in the past you have felt, or currently feel, terribly burdened …, weighed down …, at the end
of your rope …, imagining that the next straw will be the one final straw to break the camel's back. Can you identify at least one situation like that?
… The range of feelings we experience at times of great burdens are not happy feelings.
I wonder if the heaviest burdens are not the material burdens of sickness and death, or of relative poverty. I suspect that the
most onerous burdens are intangible, interior, and spiritual. When relationships are not good, … when communications are not good, … when respect is
diminished, … when truth is absent, … we feel bad. When faith, hope, and love are not strong, we feel weak. When virtue is diminished, we feel
diminished. Because evil is the absence of good, when evil increases, we feel less good.
How might we achieve the rest of which Jesus assures us? Not surprisingly, it is not easy; if it were easy to attain or obtain,
we would not all be sitting here wishing or praying for it. Jesus says the means to achieve his rest is: "Take my yoke upon yourself, and learn from
me." What is Jesus' yoke? Jesus came to do the will of the Father in heaven. He came to earth as the God-Man to suffer and die for us, in order to save
us, and to teach us how to live properly. Look at our visual images of Jesus: he comes with an openness in order to teach us the truth. He demonstrates
truth and love by giving his life for all others. Jesus' rest results from doing the good that God wants us to do, from valuing God's will and way above
our way. Divine rest results from humbling ourselves, facing and accepting the realities of our lives, determining/discerning what God would want us to
do, and then trying to do our best in praise of God and in service for others.
Getting back to my father. He took therapy faithfully for two years. At that point some inexperienced medical person told my dad
he would never regain the use of his speech, his arm, his leg. When my dad heard that news, my dad gave up his fighting spirit. Hope was gone. The next
two years, my dad experienced a gradual inexorable decline of his health and spirit. My dad died after a total of four years after his stroke. His rest
came in believing in and returning to God. For us family members who remained, our rest came from knowing and trusting in faith that my dad had gone "to
a better place," and that we had tried our best not just at the end of my father's life, but during his and our lifetimes, i.e., trying to be good and
to do good for each other.
New situations continue to arise that present themselves as burdens. For me, what currently burdens me? 1. That two-thirds of
the Catholics from coast to coast do not go to Mass each Sunday. 2. That politicians, even those who claim to be Catholic, continue to support
pro-abortion policies. 3. That even before our war in Iraq is ended, politicians are talking now publicly about going to war against Iran. 4. That the
current clothing fashion is quite immodest and immoral. Society today promotes women's clothes that oftentimes are cut too low or too short, and men's
shirts that oftentimes are decorated with profanity and ads for sex and drugs. Let's raise our standards and dress respectfully and modestly.
What gives me hope? 1. That God creates each person in the image and likeness of God; we are inherently good in our being, even
though we commit sins in our behaviors. 2. That we are created to be good and to do good, that the purpose and joy of our lives is to be good.
Conversely, sin makes us sad. 3. Although good and evil are in perennial tension, Truth and Goodness always win out. 4. I foresee the day when the
abortion laws will be overturned in this country, for lots of reasons. In part, the pro-life movement will succeed because the pro-abortion advocates
keep having fewer children. 5. More Catholics and more non-Catholic Christians wish to learn more about our Christian faith and Church History. The
ecumenical movement will prove beneficial to all Christians of serious inquiry.
All those who find life burdensome, come to Jesus. As He says, "Take my yoke upon yourself. It is easy." We will find rest to
the degree that we turn to Jesus and the Church which he founded. We will live better qualitatively, when our vision coincides better with Jesus' vision
and Jesus' way. Remember the words of St. Augustine, "Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until we rest in you." So, dear friends, respond to Jesus'
invitation: "Come to me all you who labor and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest. … My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Read other homilies by Father O'Malley