From time to time I hear the words of a priest or bishop discussing how rarely people are able to go to Mass and receive the Eucharist. I have heard Dominicans share the same thing. In some parts of the world, people only area able to get to Mass a few times a year, if that. When people are able to get to Mass, it is not simply a one hour event. No, it can last for a few hours.
Life is suffering. This is the first great truth of Buddhism. Other translations say that “to live is to suffer.” Suffering is ingrained deeply into human existence. We get sick, we die, we are evil to one another at times, we have accidents, and we make serious mistakes. This does not count the suffering we experience for doing right. Speaking out for justice, speaking for the truth can also lead to suffering. Parents know that being parents can sometimes be really hard, and cause an initial period of disharmony. We do not always like to hear the word “no,” even when it is good for us.
While Jesus tells us his yoke is easy and his burden light, he does not mean that we will never suffer. What makes the burden light? What makes the yoke easy? In a world where we are surrounded by hardship, violence and suffering, and in a world where even those who believe the words of Jesus suffer, how is it possible to have an easy yoke or a light burden?
It is certainly something that Elijah found difficult. He had done all that God asked of him (with success) and yet was still on the run for his life. Despite the powerful signs God had given, Elijah was not accepted as a prophet of God. Understandably he is depressed. He simply wants to sit under a tree and die.
I do not know if you have ever found yourself in Elijah’s place. It is a lonely place. When despite your best efforts, you find that you are still unsuccessful, lonely, filled with heartache. You might find that you are in despair, that things will never get better. This is a hard place to be, and it can be quite hard to feel understood.
In some ways, the gospel picks up where the first reading leaves off. The verses immediately following what we heard today in the first reading, are one of my favorite sections. Elijah goes to a cave to wait for God. And if you remember the encounter, it is not in the dramatic, the fire, the earthquake, those events that overwhelm us, but rather, it is in a tiny, whispering sound that God is found.
Jesus gives us the same clue about light burdens and easy yokes in the gospel. He too has not had much success in the reception of his words. He tells us that it is quite likely we will not be accepted where we are well known. Especially as vehicles of God’s powerful grace. Elijah, despite the miraculous display with the fire, and Jesus, with the miracle of the loaves, simply do not find the people to be impressed.
But the clue is in the Eucharist. The clue is in finding that quiet time with the Son of God, that time to reflect upon our own lives and to find that great God that dwells within, the great God who knows the great things we can accomplish. Put simply, the yoke is easy and the burden is light because if we choose, we do not have to bear these things alone. We are with Jesus, the bread of life, the word that sustains, the Son of God like us and divine as well, who makes the difference.
Elijah learns this in the cave. Jesus teaches this to the people. We will eat bread and never die because it is his body. We will not always be accepted, but we will always be accompanied if we open our hearts to God.
To be sure, finding the time to open ourselves to this relationship with God is challenging. Those of you who have children, know the demands of being a holy mother or father. Those of you who have demanding jobs, know that keeping a balance between the dignity of work and the domestic church that is our family is not easy. But take heart — the responsorial psalm tells us to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. While we need to find some time for silence and reflection, we also need to see our vocation as the very pathway to salvation.
That is to say, by being a good father, or a good mother, we move closer to the acceptance of salvation. In fact, in living our vocation these things are made real — we are saved, because we are being the types of persons God wants us to be.
The start to this new life is to find some time to be alone with God. You may need to be creative. Maybe it is those moments in the shower where you can pray. Maybe it is during the ride to work. Maybe it is in those few moments before sleep that you can thank God for the blessings and ask God for the grace to meet the challenges.
It is true that our lives can be filled with a lot of suffering. But with God and with each other, we can face this suffering together.