Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened…

The Franciscan Order arose in the 13th century around the person of Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, better known to us as Saint Francis of Assisi.  The Franciscan Order was established by the verbal command of Pope Innocent the mission statement given was to follow Christ and preach penance – and the second part was a surprise to Francis. What started as an informal fraternity of Francis and three followers before his death some 20 years later grew to some 3,000 friars. The first wave of friars were formed by simply watching the example of Francis. By Francis’s death most friars had not ever met Francis – they knew stories, but had no personal experience of him. In such a milieu, it is not surprising that differences would arise “about what Francis intended” for this fraternity of religious men.

About 30 years after Francis’ death, the dissension had risen to the development of three distinct factions among  the Franicscan. One group said that following the poverty of Christ was the most important on the Franciscan vows and all else was subservient to that. Another group said that, no, obedience was the primary vow and all else followed from that vow.  Each of these groups felt that the other rules and vows were a burden on living the true, authentic Franciscan life. What about the third group? The third group offered all the vows were important and can’t we just get along.

It is from this group arose St. Bonaventure of Bagnareggio, a scholar contemporary of St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris, soon to be elected as Provincial Minister of the Franciscan Order. In 1256 he spoke to the entire order. His counsel centered on our gospel for today.

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.

He reminded all the friars that in the end we follow Christ along the path trod by Francis, but that his footsteps were his own. Just as Francis faced labors and burdens along the way, so too will you. He challenged the friars to face those challenges with humility of heart and to be a wise steward of their time, always setting aside time for prayer and the search for wisdom. Good advice.

Humility and wisdom. Would that we possess them in all times and especially the times when we feel burdened by the path we walk in the lifetime given us.

Every so often a parishioner will ask me if the priests do anything other than celebrate Mass and hear confessions. I pause to see if there are any indications that they are just being ironic. Then I realize the question is serious. I am not sure if I should go with “offended” or treat this as a “teachable” moment. My practiced response is that it is a grace to celebrate those sacraments, but they comprise a small part of my 60-70 hour of ministry each week. The moment passes without any great offense taken or detailed explanation offered.

The question is most likely to come on days when I am tired, not too self-aware, when my compassion gas tank is dry – but yet the mission continues, the waiting-to-be-taken-care-of pile is growing.  And I feel the burden. I think: this is all too much. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

That is when I turn to the Lord for humility and wisdom. Both a work-in-progress in my life.

Life in a family. Pandemic induced homeschooling, both parents working from home, someone needs to keep the kids engaged and somehow schedule school work and fun. Good job, now that we are on the return to normal…. And at this point if I ask, “So…now what do you do all day? Must be pretty easy.” What will you go with; “offended” or convert it into a teachable moment.  Even apart from the pandemic days, family life is hard. There are burdens of too much to do, too many family members that want your attention, a work boss who thinks you’ve nothing else to do at 8:30 in the evening and doesn’t hesitate to call. And you feel the burden and think: this is all too much. I pray that in that moment you will hear the echo: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

Life as a student trying to balance academics, sports, activities, friendship, social media, and lots of other demands on your time. It is easy to feel the burden and think this is all too much. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

Jesus felt the burden. The crush of people wanting to be healed, the challenges of the Pharisees and scribes, the need to prepare the disciples for a time when he would not be with them. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” This is when Jesus turned to his heavenly Father in heaven. In the Bible it is the occurrence of a single verse: he withdrew to the mountain in prayer.

It is what St. Francis did in his life. He found the time and place to withdraw to be in prayer, to be – for a time – freed from his labors and burdens. Turning to God to discover what it meant for him to follow Jesus. What he was called to do with all these followers he did not want, but who looked to him for example and leadership.

We each have our own burdens and labors – and they are part of our lives. If we would be fully followers of Christ and Francis of Assisi, then let us turn to God in prayer seeking humility and wisdom to know what is ours to do.

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