Since the Gospel a few days ago included Matthew 11:28-29, I thought it was OK to take a diversion from the usual post format and include a piece of writing that is dear to me. It is from a great spiritual classic called In the Likeness of Christ, by Fr. Edward Leen, C.S.S.P. The book is re-published by Sarto House, but originally it was published by Sheed & Ward in 1936. The section I’m including is from Appendix 1, The Saints. It explains much of what this blog is about and what a Living Monstrance is. There will – God willing – be more coming under the page headings on the right to help to understand and implement his points in one’s daily life. I hope you enjoy it:
For us too, humble beings though we are, as for the early Christians, Christ is All-in-All, and at a touch He will transform our whole being from “glory to glory”; living a divine life, all shadows, all imperfections, obscurities, sins, faults, all contrarieties will be swept away, and nothing left but the pure expression of Christ Himself.
Our Divine Lord would have us rise to that concept of ourselves, that we are always in the condition of beings capable of being touch at any moment by Christ with this splendor, in spite of the drab appearance of our lives. It is only justice to Him really to believe that. He gives us assurance in many ways that in spite of the work-a-day world about us, the world of splendor stands ready to be revealed at any moment. “Come to Me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” “Take up My yoke upon you, for My yoke is sweet and My burden is light.”
How often have we read and heard these words. Perhaps we seized the sense, but how rarely the profound significance and reality of the words come home to us! So it always is with the Scriptures. We understand the terms and words and clauses, but we grasp them only with our minds; it is completely different when we grasp them with our whole souls. For this we need more than the knowledge of language; it is not a text that gives it, but life touched with experience. Experience comes to us, and then what was before a mere statement suddenly bursts into splendor which illuminates our whole existence.
There are few statements more consoling in Scripture than that quoted. It throws a flood of light on God’s attitude towards us and our life. “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy-laden …” It is most consoling, my dear children, that God Who is Almighty should tell us this one thing – that He recognizes that our life is a hard and heavy burden – that it is not a thing that He thinks lightly of, but one which He understands and weighs at its worth. How wonderful it is that He deigns to tell us this, that we are persons weighed down with care and trials and sorrows. He does not treat as children’s sorrows our trials and regard them as trivial. Our Lord does not act so. He does not regard them as of no consequence, but calls them a “heavy burden” and sees us as heavy-laden; He shows us profound sympathy and understanding as a consequence.
What a consolation to us to see that God’s attitude is not that of a dispassionate, just, impartial judge sitting on His tribunal, noting our efforts to be good, judging us keenly, ready to applaud our success, but also unsympathetic towards our faults. He is not there like a music-examiner, calculating our capacities, noting the tone, execution, and other features of a musical display. That notion is entirely foreign to God. He is there judging us keenly, prepared to approve every effort on our part, it is true, but He is note-taking with the extremely tender love of a father who realizes all our experiences and knows that they are hard. It is not God, but we ourselves who have made life hard. God but submits to the operation of His own laws. I repeat that it is not He but we ourselves that make life hard. But God will take steps to secure that the effects of the burden that we have made for ourselves may be remedied, and that we shall not suffer – if we will to accept His aid – from what of itself should make us suffer.
My dear children, Our Divine Lord shows Himself in this sentence profoundly sympathetic with our whole life’s experiences; He shows that He is not unfeeling, not without understanding, not a stoic. He confesses that we have burdens to bear and heavy ones; He confesses that at all times we are crushed with trials and sorrows, and avows that He is all eagerness as a friend, to come and retrieve the situation for us. “Come to Me … I will refresh you.” Note, He does not say: “perhaps I will be able to help you,” but that He is in a position to deal with the situation so that we are not crushed and the thing becomes light. He would have us understand how we are to come to that attitude of soul in which we can deal with the burden of life and find it a yoke which is light and sweet. He does not tell us He is going to take it from our shoulders; He does not say, “I’ll take it,” though we might expect that He would. No. Why? Because that is impossible. Life must be what life is – a thing woven of human experiences for each, and these depend on birth, education, contacts, on money or loss of money, position, bereavements; all these make up life and must make up our life. Therefore, He cannot take the burden of life from us without taking life itself – that tissue of pleasant and painful experiences.
But note what He can do: He can take it all, with its light and shade, and transubstantiate it – change it. “My yoke is sweet and My burden is light.” He makes it His, and not the world’s, burden. It is still a burden, but it is ours and His, not any longer that of the world – that of those who bear it apart from Christ. He would have it our burden in Christ – a totally different thing. That He undertakes, so that what would be crushing for our own strength, we can carry with Him. He wishes to insinuate His shoulders into ours, His mind into ours, His Heart into ours, His strength into ours, if only we will it.
One burden He completely takes from us – the burden of sin; that He will not lighten, but will make to disappear altogether, like a vapor. But the burden of life – the experiences which are not sinful – He must permit to remain on our shoulders. That He leaves to us; it may gall us, but He arranges that it shall not gall us while remaining a burden. A burden is calculated to crush and exhaust us; He secures that it will not crush or exhaust us; He will not lighten it, but He will make us strong. He cannot change the nature of the burden – that which makes it heavy – but He makes us strong. A weight of twenty-eight pounds is heavy for a child but nothing to a man, though it is the same weight; so, Christ gives us vigor and strength which enable us to bear the burden He cannot take from us, and which would be crushing and exhausting for ourselves alone.
We are not transformed by an odd prayer, but only by life itself, by living life in all its phases. We cannot be sanctified by stepping aside from life’s duties on the plea of being absorbed in prayer. Every experience of the twenty-four hours, including sleep, is of value if we are united to Christ and borrow His strength to enable us to sanctify it. If we do this, we are changed. Time is the material of eternity. Mind that truth. It is not the few hours of prayer, not the specifically religious exercises, which change us and make us divine. No, but the whole thing is meant to make us to become what Christ wants us to become. Every experience – not only the hard things, not only the joys, but all, the sorrows, the joys, the recreation, sleep, work, eating, drinking – all are needed.
Life is a material woven of many colors and of a great variety of threads, all of which form the pattern which is to make us like to Christ. There are the gold threads of our prayer; the purple of sorrow; the green of hope; the red of suffering; the grey of our work; the white of joy: all are woven into one piece, one fabric, which is meant to make us what God wants us to be. Accept all – the pattern and the weaving – and ask Christ to uphold it with us until it becomes for us that festal garment with which we shall be clothed among the Saints whose octave we are celebrating.
If the veil were drawn aside and we could see into heaven, we should see thousands and thousands of persons who were to us very work-a-day – nondescripts, perhaps – now transformed and shining in glory. Millions of the most ordinary people with whom we have come in contact are now in glory. In each of us there is the material of that same glory, in the measure we take Christ as ours, and according to the greater or less degree in which we make our burden His.
Therefore, don’t confine life to your times of prayer. All that makes up life is of value. The role of prayer, of your time in the chapel, is to consecrate the whole fabric of life, and not a thing standing apart. Prayer – union with God – is what transubstantiates the whole of our life’s experiences , and that is the reason why life borne with Christ is such a joyous, buoyant thing. Life should be joyous; Christ has said His yoke is sweet. It is hard only if left to ourselves to bear, not so if He is permitted to take it and change it into His own.
2 thoughts on “Our Yokemate”
“…it is completely different when we grasp them with our whole souls.”
Thank you for this passage from Fr. Leen’s work, Jerome. I do want to grasp this with my whole soul, and will be back to read this again and print it also. As someone who has not heard very much truly good teaching on this subject, I really appreciate your sharing this here.
“Therefore, He cannot take the burden of life from us without taking life itself.” This gives me another way of understanding the parable of the wheat and the tares as well…
You’re very much welcome, Gabrielle – it is a book that Our Lady put in my path. It is a great, great book, on the most important subject of life, one that, as you’ve pointed out, is hardly talked about or preached about (that may change!).
But, Our Lady also led me to a great priest who truly lives it, Fr. Peter Grover, OMV, at St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in Boston. His homilies are online at http://stclementshrine.org/index.php?id=85
I can’t begin to explain how much I’ve learned from him. Over the last 10 years, the Shrine has become the largest and most active spot in the Archdiocese of Boston and is having an effect all around the Archdiocese. And it’s filled mostly with young and middle-aged adults. If you lived nearby, I think you’d love it.
I think it’s fair to say that what you see here in the blog is the (little) fruit of taking his words and example to heart. (You may find a similarity between his homilies and the blog posts here!)