July 3, 2011


Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

-       Mt. 11: 28

   There are two key terms here: ‘burdened’ & ‘rest.’ Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

   ‘Burdened’ is associated with being weighed down, of trying to cope with something that is difficult if not impossible. It could be physical, such as heavy labor. It could be mental, such as mental illness or a memory that torments us. Then it could be spiritual, & the possibilities here become endless: a grudge that we seem unable to shake, a job or relationship that makes us miserable (such as a marriage gone bad), a low self-image that poisons our ability to take on challenges, pride that makes us control freaks, an addiction to whatever that is sucking the life out of us, the list goes on & on. In short, we are not free.

   In an obvious sense, ‘Rest’ means being free of these burdens. But I think it is something more subtle that that. In today’s Gospel our Lord says, “learn from me, for I am meek & humble of heart.” The trick is not simply to be free of some burden, but the attitude with which we approach it. A wise priest once wrote, “Humility does not mean thinking badly of ourselves, but nothing of ourselves,” i.e., not thinking or expecting too much of ourselves or too little of ourselves. The difference is subtle but crucial.

   There is something still deeper at stake here. Psalm 95 ends with these words: “They are a people of erring heart, & they do not know my ways. Therefore, I swore in my anger: they shall not enter into my rest” (95: 10-11). Now we know that on the 7th day of creation, God rested. In short, to enter into His Rest means the beatific vision that we call heaven. So when our Lord speaks of giving us rest, He is really talking about our salvation. The stakes are high indeed.

   We are all familiar with the expression “Get off my back.” Our Lord’s invitation is to “Get on my back.” This difference of attitude can make all the difference in our lives. Here is a concrete example:

   When Mikhail Baryshnikov, the great ballet dancer who defected from Russia, completed a two-week run at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., a ballet enthusiast who attended every performance wrote the following: “When Baryshnikov comes on stage there is electricity. You can feel it all over. Just perfection in dancing. On opening night the audience stood & cheered & applauded for fully twenty minutes. I’ve never seen anything like it! Fantastic! But as the two weeks went by I realized something more amazing than the dancing of Baryshnikov was happening. A young woman, Kelsey Kirkland of the New York City Ballet, had been chosen by Baryshnikov to be his partner. Up to this time she had been regarded as a good dancer but not an outstanding dancer. In fact, several articles had been written about some of her problems as a ballerina. “A lack of confidence…too much preoccupation with herself at times,” the critics were saying. But she became Baryshnikov’s partner. And he was able to bring out the very best in her so that she was sensational. The audience sensed it & she sensed it, & tears streamed down her face as she acknowledged the applause. I watched her dance with other partners during this two week period. She was good, but not outstanding. But when I saw her with Baryshnikov, there it was: she was electric; she sparkled; she was radiant, she was full of life. And I realized that I was seeing the miracle of one person bringing out in another person her very best.”

   This is what Christ does for us. We love him not only for His glory & His excellence, but also because He brings out in each one of us the very best. He makes our lives radiate & sparkle. This is what it means to trust Him with our burdens; to rely on Him for peace of soul, & to seek from Him the refreshment of body & soul we so desperately need & want.  AMEN!