Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 5)

Scott Cacciola in a 2012 article for the Wall Street Journal wrote about Bernard Lagat, a world class athlete, and part of his training routine. Bernard is a four-time Olympian who currently has five American running records. In the 2012 London Olympics, at age 37, he finished fourth in the 5,000 meters.

The author notes that world class athletes spend a lot of time in training. He cites one American coach who says, “In the U.S., runners are very obsessive about not letting go of training.”

Lagat’s approach is different. Every fall, since 1999, he takes rest. “He will toss his sneakers into a closet and pig out for five weeks. No running. No sit-ups, no heavy-lifting, except for a fork.” Lagat himself comments on his periods of rest: “My runs are very hard. Everything I do is hard…. [But] the body is tired. You’re not a machine. Rest is a good thing.”

Rest for the body is important for its growth and resilience. Rest for the soul is similar. The body sends signals to us that rest is needed; some of these include aches, pain and fatigue. The soul sends signals as well, though they are not always readily readable. Some of these signals might include fatigue as well but may also involve things like irritability, anger and impatience.

Rest for the body may include a routine like Bernard Lagat or something similar. What about rest for the soul? Where does one find this rest?

Jesus invites us to find the answer to these questions in him. Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus gathering with people of all different backgrounds and ways of life. He meets with fishermen and farmers, with soldiers and politicians, with the rich and the poor, with people in good health and those who are sick, with men and women, with young and old, with the joyful and the grieving, with the righteous and the sinner.

He knows the joys but also the burdens that people share in life; he shares them himself. He knows what it means to feel tired or weighed down. Whether it be by fear, by sin, by responsibilities, by sorrow or grief, by injustice or oppression, by sadness or by any combination of these. And so he says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus shares with us his peace. He opens his arms to welcome us in love. Prayer is the means by which we experience his peace and find that rest that he offers. In prayer, we come to him with all our experiences in life, we bring our whole selves to him. He offers us healing, serenity and consolation. He knows us and loves us, even with our faults and failings. In this loving relationship we find rest.

The rest then strengthens us. The peace he instills stays with us not just in time of prayer but throughout the day. He remains with us. St. Paul says, in the second reading from Romans, that the Spirit dwells in us. In the Spirit, Jesus is with us, we are not alone. So when Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” he has the full intention of being with us to help us carry that yoke; so much so that he will say, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Faith is needed to enter into this peace. Jesus prays to the Father in the beginning of this Sunday’s Gospel passage. He praises the Father for revealing “these things” to the “little ones” who are contrasted with the “wise and the learned.” Why the comparison? Why the emphasis on the “little ones”?

The “little ones” are the ones who put their faith in Jesus and in doing so are led to the Father. The “wise and learned” will try to figure things out for themselves and many times end up getting caught up in themselves instead of being led to the Father.

The struggles in life in these days are many. Many of us are anxious and upset. We want peace, we want justice, we want safety, we want good health and we want to go back to “normal.” The uncertainty of our times now heightened by the upswing in the pandemic tends to amplify the “labor” of these days.

Rest is needed. Jesus invites us to find our rest in him: “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.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.