Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 9, 2017 – Year A
Readings: Zec 9:9-10 / Ps 145 / Rom 8:9, 11-13 / Mt 11:25-30
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
Some of you may have noticed that I was absent for a couple of weeks. I got to go on a pretty cool trip, out to New Mexico to the Philmont Scout Ranch. I went with a group of scouts, one of them being my son, and we got to spend a couple of weeks hiking, and backpacking, and camping on the trail. In eleven days we hiked eighty-eight miles. Most of our time was spent above eight thousand feet, and we topped out at over twelve thousand feet.
The terrain out there is breathtaking. In the southern part, it’s arid: grassy plains, surrounded by mesas. There are antelope running wild out on the plains. But as you move north, it becomes more mountainous. It looks just like I imagined it would look: snow-capped peaks in the distance; huge, huge stands of ponderosa pine; and on the fringe, stands of aspen and Gambel oaks. We even happened into an alpine meadow. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen: a big meadow at eleven thousand feet. Gorgeous, gorgeous view, wildflowers everywhere.
What I discovered is that, while the hike was challenging, I really needed it. I really, really needed that trip. I didn’t even realize it when I left here. There are a couple of points in today’s gospel that sum up why I needed that trip.
The first one is this: One of the things that I learned on the trip is that you really don’t need a lot to live. In fact, you can carry it all on your back. You really don’t need a big house, a comfortable bed. You just need a place to lie down, get some sleep, a little bit of shelter, and some food and water. While I like my house, I like my bed, and I really like being able to drive everywhere instead of hiking all the time, those are extras and are really not necessary when it comes down to it.
Our faith can be like that, too. Jesus said in the gospel today, “Although you have hidden these things from the wise, you have revealed them to the little ones.” When He’s talking about “the wise” in this gospel passage, He’s talking about the Pharisees and the scribes, a group that had taken the Jewish faith and had distilled it down into a set of rules, six hundred and some of them. They were all about the rules. They were so much about the rules and so concerned that everybody followed the rules that many of them actually missed the basic point of the rules.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that the rules we have in our faith are bad. They’re good. They’re guidelines. But we always need to keep our eyes and our mind on the simple things: the simple things that God loves us, He cares for us, and we can do nothing to change that, and we can do nothing to make God love us more.
Spiritual practices are for our benefit; they’re not for God’s. That is an important thing to remember as we live out our lives as Catholic Christians.
The second thing I discovered on my trip, really didn’t discover it; I knew it, but it was really brought home to me, is that stress is a killer. I really didn’t realize how stressed out I was until I went on this trip. It’s not like I couldn’t sleep. It’s not like I was feeling sick. But somehow, being removed from my day-to-day life and put in a completely different environment, being surrounded by God’s magnificent creation, made me realize: Wow. I deal with a lot of stress, and sometimes I let it get the better of me.
Jesus says in today’s gospel: “Come to Me all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest.” He means it. In fact, something cool happened on about the third day of the trip. I’d gotten used to the hiking, gotten used to the forty-five pounds that was constantly on my back, and all of a sudden I’m standing there just looking at this gorgeous country, and a familiar scripture verse popped into my mind. It’s from the beginning of the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior. For He has looked with favor on His lowly servant.” That mantra stayed with me the rest of the trip.
Jesus offers us a relief from our burdens. I’m not talking about a “health and wealth gospel.” That is completely taken out of context. Jesus doesn’t promise that, if you follow Him, everything will be awesome. You will never get sick. You will never want for anything. That’s not what He’s saying.
What He’s saying is that, if you are a follower of Jesus, He can help you deal with those things. Going away and being completely removed is often where people get that reset. The trick is to maintain that in your day-to-day lives. We can do that through prayer, through worship, through fellowship with other believers.
I read a story recently about Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was president, but he was also the head honcho for the allied forces during World War II. Somebody asked him one time, “You seemed to handle that stress so well. Literally every decision you made had incredible ramifications for the lives of individuals and in fact for the whole world. How did you do that?” What he said is fascinating. He said, “Every night, I prayed a little prayer. It goes like this: Lord, with Your grace, I’ve done my best. You take over until morning.”
I’ve heard variations of that prayer before. At times I’ve used it in my own life; not nearly often enough. If you’re like me, your tendency is, when things are going good, to get on autopilot, and your prayer life dwindles down, and sometimes when things start ramping up again, you forget about praying.
So I would invite everyone to try it in the stress of your daily lives. Focus on Jesus and understand that He will help us all get through it.
St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that we are “of the spirit.” We are in this world, but we are not of this world. If we hold to that, we can live this life more abundantly. And when we have left this world full of stress, we can spend eternity with Christ, our Savior.