This weekend, as we’re celebrating the Lord’s Day, we also celebrate Independence Day, our country’s birthday. I want to share with all of you my prayers and good wishes for a safe and joyful holiday weekend. We can and should love our country, and especially the very high ideals of life, liberty, equality, and happiness that we stand for at our best. Those ideals are very good, and we’re very grateful to God for blessing us with them.
And yet, even given those ideals that bind us together, it’s still pretty hard to be a Christian these days. Our witness isn’t valued very much, is it? Often, it seems like most of our friends and neighbors just laugh at all the things that we as Catholics know are most important – things like our respect for tradition; respect for the dignity of each human person; marriage; justice; the Bible; the Cross; Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament; even life itself. Every day, if we want to live up to our high calling as followers of Christ, we have to fight for it. Picking up our Cross to follow Him means carrying a double weight – the weight of the Cross, and the burden of scorn and rejection.
So why does Jesus tell us, “My yoke is easy, and my burden light?” Doesn’t He know how hard it us for us to die to ourselves, and to die to the world, in order to love Him?
Of course He knows. He knows exactly what kind of a place the world is, because He lived here, as one of us. He knows exactly how much it costs to be faithful to God the Father, because He suffered here, just like we do. Being faithful to the Father cost Him everything! And if we follow Him, we will find that it costs us everything, too. There’s no such thing as giving yourself to God a little bit.
For those who are learned and wise and powerful in the world, this kind of total commitment, the commitment of the Cross, is crazy. That’s why they laugh at us – they think we are fools. To them, we’re like little children – because we’re afraid of the wrong things, and we love the wrong things.
Because the world puts its hope and its trust in things, not God, worldly people are most afraid of loss. They fear losing their possessions and their “lifestyle” so much that they’ll destroy lives and marriages to keep them. They fear being taken advantage of, especially by the poor, and so they give very little to worthy charities. They fear the loss of their reputation so much that they can’t trust their co-workers, even their own families. Beyond all hope, they fear dying. This kind of fear is totally irrational. It is why so many rich people are so unhappy. They can’t take pleasure in the good things they have, and they can’t even be happy for the good things others have, because they’re so afraid of losing these goods.
On the other side of the same coin, what the world most loves is self. The great and the wise of the world preach constantly that the only way to be happy is to indulge yourself. We can’t turn on the TV, or the radio, or the Internet, or open a newspaper or a magazine, without being bombarded with this message: Eat more! Buy more! Have more! Flaunt more! Make people envy you – then you’ll be happy. Never deny yourself even a small pleasure – then you’ll be happy.
But we know this is all false. It’s the wrong fear, and the wrong love, and it’s a very heavy burden for those who can’t put it down.
Jesus tell us, “My yoke is easy, and my burden light.” We who carry the Cross, we know that we should fear only God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – not the false wisdom of the world, but the wisdom of faith. It’s fear of God that teaches us how to let go of our stuff, how to give it away, how to share it generously with those who need it even more than we do. Fear of God teaches us that everything we have is His gift to us. In our own charity to others, we recognize some little part of God’s infinite and perfect love for each of us. We see that He is so good to us, so generous, so just. Therefore we gain faith and hope also – for how could He not give more to those who give freely from His gift?
Therefore the other side of this coin is love of neighbor. The Cross is a light and easy burden to carry, because we carry it together. Love is always a sharing, a communion between people, and between us and God, in Jesus Christ. That’s why love of self makes people bitter and mean; it doesn’t go anywhere; it only festers. We learn this first in our family, and then also in our Church. Our unity here, at the foot of this altar, is a great gift of God, and so we desire something of that unity to exist also in our city and our country.
That’s why the Cross is a much lighter burden than the world. Where the fear of loss prevails, there can be no true hope. But where the fear of God shines from our hearts, hope follows easily, and the invitation to put down the heavy burden of selfishness, and follow Christ. Where the love of self prevails, there can be no true charity. But where the love of neighbor shines from our hearts, true charity follows easily, and the invitation to put down the heavy burden of selfishness, and follow Christ.
So when the world laughs at us for our commitment to the Cross, don’t be afraid. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t give up. The world needs our witness to the liberty and the happiness of a holy life. Our country needs our faith most of all, more than anything else we can give. That’s why Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”