My grandfather, Kenneth Kennedy, used to have a brush-factory in Dublin, which later turned into an art shop, which is still going. At one stage he employed a man as a kind of messenger boy and general ‘dog’s body’. He was a very simple man and I believe he was probably more of a burden from a business point of view, than anything else. One time another friend of my grandfather’s was visiting the shop and he said to him, ‘Kenneth, why are you still holding on to that guy?’ And my grandfather just said, ‘Ah, shur I can’t throw him out, he has nowhere else to go.’ The other guy said, ‘Kenneth, you’ll never make a good business man.’ And he was probably right.
Most people I know have to work pretty hard to hold onto their jobs and most businesses I know—and I worked for several before I became a priest—can be quite ruthless when it comes to letting people go if they feel they could make more money without them. In the business world money tends to come first and people second. And now we are starting to have the problem of companies going to other countries to get cheaper labour. The result of all this is that it causes a lot of stress at work. Financial pressure is one of the biggest burdens around and arguments over finances are one of the most common in marriages.
Where do we turn to when we feel that we can-not keep going? Who do we turn to for compassion and support? In the readings today Jesus tells us to turn to him, because he knows the pressures we are under. God is well aware of how difficult it can be and He offers to help us.
Jesus used the image of the ‘yoke’. The yoke was the wooden brace that linked two animals together around the neck, in order to split the load between them. Jesus is telling us that He wants to help us carry the load, to take some of the burden, but we also have to allow him to do this. I think it is often tempting to leave God to Sundays, or to ‘religious’ things, but from all that God teaches us through the Bible, one thing that is very clear is that He is very interested in everything we do, down to the most ordinary level. God is well aware of the burdens we carry and He is telling us that we need to keep coming back to him to refill regularly, just like you have to do with your car. He is saying, ‘Let me give you the peace and hope that you need, so that you are able to get up and go on another bit,’ but we have to keep coming back to him regularly.
We face a similar difficulty in all we are hearing about the world around us. So much evil, so much injustice and so much suffering. It can be overwhelming. If we only listen to this it can make life too difficult and we can be tempted to despair. But if we continually come back to the Lord and listen to what He teaches us, it keeps things in perspective. Then we remember that God is the one in charge, that there will be justice in the end; that evil cannot overcome the power of God. But if we only listen to what is going on in the world, we will not remember that. That’s why Jesus calls us to continually come to him for refuge, not just once in a while, but every day, because we need the strength to keep going without being overcome by the world around us.
One of the great tragedies of our time is the high number of suicides, especially among our young people. Recently in my home-town of Galway, I heard that nine young people had taken their own lives in the one weekend. Like everything else there are probably many reasons for it, but I have no doubt that one of the biggest reasons is because people have lost faith and they don’t know what to turn to. How do you keep going when everything seems impossible? We need a source of strength, something we can continually turn to, in order to give us renewed strength and purpose. If we believe that this life is just passing and that there is something wonderful waiting for us in the next life, then this gives us strength to keep going during difficult times. We believe that what we suffer here is only temporary, so we are prepared to put up with a lot. But if you don’t have any faith, what do you turn to?
Three things in particular that God has given us to help us are the Word of God, to guide and direct us; Confession, so that we can get up again as often as we fall; and above all the Eucharist where we can receive Jesus himself, every day if we wish. All of these things are pure gift from God, to help us. Hopefully we will continue to see them with new eyes and recognise them for the treasure which they are.
All of us here who have been given faith—and you have faith if you are here—I think we need to pray a lot for our young people that God will bless them with faith and that God will show us how we can pass on the gift of faith that He has given us.
Let me finish with this story: Recently on the news they interviewed the oldest woman in America: Jeralean Talley, who was born May 23, 1899. She is an African-American and she has just turned 115. The journalist interviewing here said, ‘What’s your secret?’ She just pointed up to heaven and then he asked, ‘The Lord?’ She said ‘Yes. The Father got everythin’, I got nothin’. It’s all in his hands!’
‘Come to me all you who labor and are overburdened and I will give you rest.’