Thursday, July 15, 2010

Take My Yoke Upon You And Learn From Me; For My Yoke Is Easy, And My Burden Light.

Memorial of Saint Bonaventure,
bishop and doctor of the Church
Reading I
Isaiah 26:7-9, 12, 16-19
The way of the just is smooth;
the path of the just you make level.
Yes, for your way and your judgments, O LORD,
we look to you;
Your name and your title
are the desire of our souls.
My soul yearns for you in the night,
yes, my spirit within me keeps vigil for you;
When your judgment dawns upon the earth,
the world's inhabitants learn justice.
O LORD, you mete out peace to us,
for it is you who have accomplished all we have done.

O LORD, oppressed by your punishment,
we cried out in anguish under your chastising.
As a woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pains,
so were we in your presence, O LORD.
We conceived and writhed in pain,
giving birth to wind;
Salvation we have not achieved for the earth,
the inhabitants of the world cannot bring it forth.
But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise;
awake and sing, you who lie in the dust.
For your dew is a dew of light,
and the land of shades gives birth.
We have today a beautiful prayer for judgement to come soon.It is the prayer of one who wants to follow closely the Lord’s way:
The path of the upright man is straight,
you smooth the way of the upright.
His one longing is to be close to his Lord.
Your name, your memory are all my soul desires.

This contrasts strongly with the cruel and materialistic world of yesterday’s reading.

The next phrase is also a lovely one and one which we could make our own prayer:
At night my soul longs for you
and my spirit in me seeks for you.

We speak today of “seeking God in all things”, in every person, in every experience, in every situation. This is where our lives get their true meaning.
When your judgements appear on the earth,
the inhabitants of the world
learn the meaning of integrity.

For it is the judgements of God which throw light on what is really good and true and just.

The upright person too totally accepts those judgements and decisions of God:
Lord, you are giving us peace,
since you treat us
as our deeds deserve.

The good person has nothing to fear: good deeds will bring their own reward; evil deeds will bring their consequences too. In either case, the good experience peace because, whatever happens, they are in touch with God’s love.

The pains that follow from sinful acts are accepted:
Distressed, we search for you, Lord;
the misery of oppression was your punishment for us.

Everything, absolutely everything - be it good or bad, pleasant or painful, as Paul reminds us, works together for the ultimate good of those who love God. Those without that love are left pained and puzzled. Those with love find peace in every experience.

At the same time the prophet speaks with regret of how the people have not lived up to their commitments. Speaking on their behalf he says: “O Lord, oppressed by your punishment, we cried out in anguish under your chastising.” Here he may be referring to the Assyrian oppression.

Israel was intended to be “a light for the Gentiles” (see Isaiah 42:6 and 9:2, which are cited in the Gospel) but “we have not given the spirit of salvation to the earth, no more inhabitants of the world are born”.

Jesus will teach us in the Gospel that his followers, too, are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are to let people see our goodness so that they may be drawn to love and glorify God. But, by their behaviour, Isaiah says that God’s people failed in this regard.

And we Christians, too, would have to admit to frequent failure. In these days, we are as likely to turn people away from Christ as towards him. It is time for us, as it was for the people that Isaiah addressed, to bring the dead, the spiritually dead, back to life. And then “the land of ghosts will give birth”.

Let us pray that our land be transformed from one of ghosts to one that has and gives life.*
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Psalm 102
From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.
You, O LORD, abide forever,
and your name through all generations.
You will arise and have mercy on Zion,
for it is time to pity her.
For her stones are dear to your servants,
and her dust moves them to pity.
From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.
The nations shall revere your name, O LORD,
and all the kings of the earth your glory,
When the LORD has rebuilt Zion
and appeared in his glory;
When he has regarded the prayer of the destitute,
and not despised their prayer.
From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.
Let this be written for the generation to come,
and let his future creatures praise the LORD:
"The LORD looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die."
From heaven the Lord looks down on the earth.
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Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus said:
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
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."
The Gospel in many of its passages is very demanding and requires an unconditional commitment to the following of Christ. We have seen that clearly in the contrast Jesus made between the demands of the Law and what he expected from his followers. But, again and again, that is balanced by the other side of God - his compassion and his understanding of our weakness and frailty.

Today he invites “all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest”. He seems to be referring to the burden of the Law and the many other legalistic observances which had accumulated over the generations. In fact there was a common rabbinic metaphor which spoke of the ‘yoke of the Law’. We will see some of this in the two remaining readings of this week. Jesus did not have much time for this kind of religion. He invites us to come to him instead and experience comfort and consolation.

Jesus invites us to take on his yoke instead. A yoke can be heavy but it makes it easier for the ox to pull the cart or the plough. Jesus’ yoke is the yoke of love. On the one hand, it restricts us from acting in certain ways but at the same time it points us in the right direction. In the long run, it has a liberating effect. It is not unlike the idea of the “narrow door” which Jesus invites us to go through rather than follow the wide road to nowhere.

Jesus asks us to learn from him in his gentleness and humility. This was in stark contrast to the severity and arrogance of other religious leaders. Not only are we to experience the gentleness of Jesus, we are also to practise it in our own dealings with others.

I think it is commentator William Barclay who offers another lovely idea. It was quite common to have double yokes when two animals pulled a vehicle together. Barclay suggests that Jesus is offering to share his yoke with us. He and I will pull together and he will share the burden with me. In either case, he assures us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Jesus expects us to give all of ourselves to him but, when we do so, we discover that what he asks is absolutely right for us. To follow Jesus is not to carry a great weight but to experience a great sense of liberation.

If we have not found that experience yet then we are not yet carrying the yoke of Jesus.*
Saint Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor (Memorial)

Bonaventure, the son of a medical doctor, was born in 1221 at Bagnoreggio, near Orvieto. He became a Franciscan in 1243. His intellectual gifts were soon recognized and he was sent to Paris to study under Alexander of Hales. In 1248 he received his licence to teach and in 1253 he became Master of the Franciscan school at Paris.

As a theologian he is regarded as being more in the line of St Augustine in contrast to his more Aristotelian contemporary, the Dominican Thomas Aquinas. He emphasised a more feeling approach than a purely rational one in speaking of divine mysteries. His main theological teaching is contained in his commentary on the Sententiae of Peter the Lombard. One point on which he differed with Aquinas was his assertion that the creation of the world in time could be shown by human reason. He also wrote important treatises on mystical theology. His Itinerarium mentis ad Deum (The journey of the mind to God) became an enduring classic.

In 1257, at the early age of 36, he was elected Minister-General of the Franciscan Order. He has been called, with some justice, its second founder. The Franciscans were coming under criticism at the time as a result of a huge increase in numbers, poor organisation attributed to Francis of Assisi with the resulting divisions into factions, with each one claiming to be faithful to the Founder.

While strongly defending the ideals of Francis, Bonaventure insisted, against Francis, on the need for study, on having libraries and proper buildings. He approved of the Friars studying and teaching in universities. He saw the Franciscan role as complementing the work of the diocesan clergy through preaching and spiritual direction. The clergy of the day were often poorly educated and lacking in spirituality.

Within the Franciscans he urged a middle way. He opposed the so-called ‘Spirituals’ who promoted material poverty above all as being the true teaching of Francis. At the same time, his own ideals of a simple life of frugal poverty, hard work and detachment from the rich as well as from riches were a reality in his own life. He wrote a Life of Francis, which was approved by the Chapter of 1266 as the only officially authorised version.

As Minister-General he visited Italy, France, Germany, and England. In 1265 he was nominated Archbishop of York by Pope Clement IV but declined the honour. However, in 1273 he was made Cardinal-Bishop of Albano by Pope Gregory X, with a command not to refuse. When the papal messengers called on him, he was washing dishes in the Mugello friary (near Florence). He asked them to wait until he had finished.

He played a prominent role in the Council of Lyons which was called to bring about a reunion with the Eastern churches. Thomas Aquinas died on his way to the same council. A temporary reunion of the churches was achieved and Bonaventure preached at the Mass of reconciliation. However, he did not live to see Constantinople repudiate the reunion.

He died on 15 July 1274 at the age of fifty-two.

His achievements in theology and administration should not allow one to forget dominant traits noted by his contemporaries: a gentle courtesy, compassion, and accessibility.

Bonaventure was canonised by Pope Sixtus IV in 1482 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1588. He is often called the Seraphic Doctor.

The Irish Jesuits

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