Sunday, July 19th, 2020

A Laborious Rest

There are words of encouragement and comfort in the eleventh chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel; we are familiar enough with the text:

Come to me all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: And you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.[1]

But there is also something curious at work here.

We note that ‘I will refresh you’ is immediately followed by ‘Take up my yoke.’ Reficiam vos; tollite iugum. A moment of whiplash, we might even say: our Lord goes from a promise of rest to a command to labor. Which is it? we might ask.

Well, both. Two kinds of labor are implied in our Lord’s discourse: the sort that is burdensome and wearying, and the sort that refreshes. Our Lord is speaking to those who are already burdened with the first sort of burden; therefore, he means to give them another yoke—the second kind of burden—but one that will refresh instead. Thus, the human person can labor for Christ and be refreshed; or he may labor for everyone or everything else and remain burdened and worn down.

To repeat the point, if somewhat differently, we see that the very act of serving Christ is its own rest.—Perhaps difficult to acknowledge, but nevertheless true. But the matter is a rather essential one: for the Catholic way would be far more attractive to the world if each of us bore Christ’s yoke more cheerfully; if we gave the impression that we were at home in the Catholic faith; that, despite the real and sometimes relentless suffering that comes our way, we are at home—at rest—in our divine service. We are to be at ease with our Catholic faith, even if it isn’t always easy.

If something like the above were not true, then the alternative is simply to consign this discourse of Christ to the realm of incoherence. For the believer, this is an impossibility. For the non-believer, however, the risk may be too great: a hopeless burden is all that really awaits him.


[1] Matthew 11, 28-30.  

{Art Credit: Harvey Dunn 1884-1952), Prairie Homesteaders Coming Home, 1909.}

Lightning Meditations