Jesus tells us in Matthew 11: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light”. The few times I’ve thought about this over the years, I’ve wondered what Jesus meant. Clearly, for most people on the planet, life is far from easy and their burden is anything but light. According to a World Bank report in 2018, half the planet lives on less than $5.50 per day! (I’ll need to keep that in mind next time I drop a few bucks on a Starbucks coffee.) Even some of the people to whom Jesus addressed this remark back then must have looked doubtful, given their day-to-day existence was precarious and their land occupied by the Romans. So what was Jesus talking here?
The short answer is, He was telling them “The Good News”: that we are all unconditionally loved by God, and that there is nothing we can do to increase, and equally importantly, or decrease that love. Moreover, that God wants us to be happy during our earthly pilgrimage in preparation for an eternity with Him/Her in heaven. And here’s the big kicker: you don’t need to earn or merit it; salvation is a total gift from God through Jesus to all of us! Now if you’re scratching your head and thinking, yeah but what about all these rules about prayers, mass, good works and other obligations in the Church; can we now ditch those? Not so fast, and I’ll explain why.
Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk and writer, said that we are all called to be saints. And that we accomplish sainthood by becoming ourselves: fulfilling God’s plan for us. As Christians, our view of saints tends to be influenced by those who’s feast days are celebrated, and we assume that to become a saint, we must do great deeds, perform miracles and live a visibly heroic life. (It’s almost enough to make you give up before you even get going!) However, this misses the point of Jesus message.
There’s a saying that God comes to us disguised as our daily lives.
Meaning that, as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit is with us in all facets of our lives, in moments big and small. Our challenge is to be aware of God’s presence, and to act accordingly. This is our path to sainthood. Also, we tend to forget that everyone in heaven is in effect a saint, canonized or not, and that most if not all of us likely have a deceased relative or friend who is a saint. And, that these “saints” are in heaven not necessarily through any particularly great acts, but by doing the small stuff of life with a loving and generous spirit.
So why do we need to pray, go to church, do good works and all that stuff if we’re already saved? Because, despite what our ego would have us believe, this is our path to true happiness: how we naturally let go of all of the things keeping us from God. It is through our personal prayer, good works, etc. that we learn to accept God’s grace, and it is through our prayer as a community, that we are praying for the universal church, to also accept God’s grace and bear fruit.
Fr. Rolheiser says that our lives should be a living prayer, where all of our interactions are characterized by respect, graciousness and love, reflecting our confidence in Jesus message. We are not meant to live in a state of anxiety, fearful of failing, falling short of expectations or offending God. We can never offend God, we can only fall short of our own potential and calling. Our path to heaven is meant to be a joyous journey, lived each day, until we are united with the Blessed Virgin and all of the other saints.