A yoke is a farming contraption that hooks two animals together, so that they can work together as a team. In some Middle Eastern countries poor farmers will sometimes yoke a tiny donkey with an enormous camel. They work well together, and they’re joined together for whatever the farmer needs them to do, plowing a field or pulling a huge load, it’s the camel that does most of the work and carries virtually all of the weight forward. The smaller donkey is yoked but he doesn’t carry much of the weight he carries very little of it. In this we can understand something of what Jesus is telling us when he encourages us to take up his yoke, his. We sometimes shrink back at the load pulled by this yoke. We sometimes feel how small we are and how incapable we are to bear the weight. To carry the farming metaphor a little further; when we look at that huge open field before us waiting to be plowed we sometimes lose heart. But, we are not yoked alone. To bear a yoke is to be coupled to another. We are part of a pair. It is our Lord’s yoke and we are but the tiny donkey, while he is the immense camel. He’s not asking us to pull our fair share, He’s only asking us to be with Him in his work. And in this relationship He purifies our work, He makes our work His.
The Gospel for today is also the Gospel for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. This solemnity, where we remember the infinite love of our Lord, was given to the Church back in the 18th century and it was given in response to visions received by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. In one of her visions our Lord said to her, “Behold the heart which has so much loved humanity that it has spared nothing, even exhausting and consuming itself in testimony of its love.” This solemnity was also given to our Church to help counter the heresy of Jansenism which denied the love of Christ for everyone. Jansenists saw God as a harsh judge and punisher. They had forgotten our Lord’s divine love and mercy.
St. Margaret Mary was a Visitation sister and as you can imagine when she reported her visions of Jesus and his Sacred Heart she was not immediately believed. Some thought she was a bit off, so spiritual specialists were called in. One of them a Jesuit by the name of Claude de la Columbiere, later St. Claude de la Columbiere, was chosen to speak with her and be her spiritual director. Columbiere found her and her visions of Jesus to be quite credible. One of my favorite teachers from Seminary was Fr. Jake Moriarty, and he once told us a story about the relationship between St. Margaret Mary and St. Claude de la Columbiere. Fr. Jake had no proof that the story was true, “but it should be!” He said. He said this with a sly grin on his face.
When Columbiere was interviewing Margaret Mary he gave her a task. He said to her, “Next time you speak to our Lord, ask him what sins I confessed in my last confession.” St. Margaret agreed and when our Lord next appeared to her, she told him, “My spiritual director wants proof that it’s really you I’m speaking to,” and so she asked, “Jesus what sins did my spiritual director confess to you in his last confession?” And our Lord looked at her and answered, “I don’t remember.” I’m not sure if this incident is true or if it ever happened but it should be true because it expresses very simply the merciful love of our Lord. He pulls us to his heart, he yokes us to himself. He loves us, he forgives our sins, and he forgets them.
St. Therese of Lisieux said this of our Lord and his merciful Sacred Heart, “He has a heart burning with tenderness who will be our support forever, who loves everything in us, even our weakness and He never leaves us day or night.” St. Therese goes on to explain this statement with a story. It’s a story about two disobedient boys. They’ve done something wrong and they know that they deserve to be punished. And so when the father comes home and sees what they’ve done and he begins to walk toward them to punish them. The two boys behave very differently. One of them runs away in fear and trembling, knowing in his heart of hearts that he deserves to be punished. The second son is much more crafty, but crafty in the right way. The second boy does the opposite: he throws himself into his father’s arms telling him that he is sorry to have hurt him, that he loves him, and that he will prove it by being good from now on.
But that’s not all: that child then asks his father to punish him with a kiss. Of course the boy’s love has to be genuine, with a real desire to behave better, but he has a real daring trust in our Lord, he has yoked himself to our Lord’s heart.
The one, who approaches our Lord frequently in the sacrament of reconciliation, in the Eucharist, and in adoration of the Eucharist will discover that he/she is yoked to our Lord’s heart in an unbreakable bond of love. He/she will discover, by personal experience that our Lord shares in all his/her sorrows, that Our Lord brings him/her relief in affliction, that Our Lord carries his/her burdens with him/her and that he/she is never, not even for a moment, forgotten or left alone.
Our Lord knows our problems, struggles, sufferings, stress, and he knows our sins. He wants to give us rest; He wants to give us relief by drawing us into His presence by drawing us into His Heart. His heart was sliced open on Calvary so that we might enter into it. In his heart we find reconciliation and rest. Let us be yoked to His heart.
“Come unto Me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. 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 sweet, and My burden light.”
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley