14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Published: July 9, 2017

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Magnolia on Saturday, July 8, 2017, and St. John the Baptist Church in Malvern and St. Mary Church in Arkadelphia on Sunday, July 9, 2017.

Bishop Taylor

You and I are descendants of immigrants. The first thing immigrants who passed through Ellis Island saw was the Statue of Liberty, on the base of which is inscribed a poem that ends with the words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

You and I are the children of tempest-tost people whose life had become so difficult that they left behind everything that was dear to them — family, friends — and took a gamble on an unknown future. And the first bit of America that many of them saw was the top of a torch raised high above the head of Miss Liberty, which was for them a beacon of hope, a light at the end of a long dark tunnel.

We would not be here today had God not allowed our ancestor's lives to become so miserable that they had to try something new, so desperate that they took this gamble. If their lives had been easier, they would have stayed and we'd be the worse off for it. On this Sunday following our July 4th holiday, let us remember that the true greatness of our country lies not in our military power or in the fact that we have the world's strongest economy.

Our parents can do all in their power to give us the precious gift of faith, but in every instance the gift must still be received, we still must open up our own heart, take that yoke upon our own shoulders ... and no one can do that for us.

Our true greatness used to lie in the fact that desperate people could come to this country and find hope, a fresh start, a future. Unfortunately, in this matter — by closing our doors to refugees and building walls — our country has become a lot less great in recent years, and it’s only getting worse.

In today's Gospel Jesus was speaking to the miserable, tempest-tost people of his day and he tells them that he is that safe harbor, where they can find hope, a fresh start and a future. He says: “Come to me all 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.”

In order to understand what Jesus is saying here, it's important to know that the type of yoke they used was a double yoke that joined two animals together — gaining for the farmer the combined strength needed to pull a plow through the hard, rocky soil of that region. Usually they paired the weak animals with strong ones because otherwise the weak animals would be useless.

So when Jesus says “take my yoke upon your shoulders” he's saying that he'll be that strong animal on the other side of this double yoke pulling with us, and he'll be doing most of the work — and that since we are weak animals, without Jesus to help us, our efforts would otherwise be futile.

But if we pull a different direction than Jesus, we're in for a lot of frustration because he's a whole lot stronger than us. Through baptism, we are already yoked to Jesus. So now the question is whether we're going to make it hard for ourselves or not.

Many of you here today are converts who have found in Jesus and in his Catholic Church new meaning in life — and some of you new hope where previously there had been only an aching emptiness. Yet unlike immigration, where the change of nationality is also inherited by the immigrant's descendants, conversion can't be inherited.

Every person must themselves convert, even those of us who are cradle Catholics. Our parents can do all in their power to give us the precious gift of faith, but in every instance the gift must still be received, we still must open up our own heart, take that yoke upon our own shoulders ... and no one can do that for us.

And one of the greatest motivators for our own conversion is the discovery that God has created us with deep needs that only he can satisfy, and that the best place to encounter him is in the community of believers.

The true greatness of our Catholic Church lies not in the fact that we are by far the largest church in the world or that we go all the way back to the original 12 Apostles or that we have a particular bishop or are served by a particular priest. After all, no parish is perfect and no priest is perfect.

Our true greatness lies in the fact that through the Church needy people — that's us! — encounter Jesus, take his yoke on our shoulders and thereby find a fresh start in this life and hope of an eternal future in the Kingdom of God.