Once a month we, the students in the seminary, had a talk by our rector. Every time he was talking about the spiritual life, current affairs and recent happenings. I held a genuine respect for that man, but in his talks he tended to pick up negative examples from seminary life and consequently the overall picture was always pretty gloomy and for me rather discouraging. One day, after yet another talk, I felt so dispirited that I asked the rector for a chat – quite an unusual request, to be honest. It was instantly granted, and, sitting face to face with him in his office, I shared my critical views about his monthly deliveries. When I returned to my room, my roommates were waiting, ready to help me pack up my stuff, certain that I had been expelled. But I wasn’t; instead the rector delivered his next talk richly encrusted with many positive examples taken from seminary life, uplifting and encouraging me to make greater efforts in my personal development. He was a decent, honest and open-minded man. His attitude and his approach have had a massively positive impact on me as a person and as a priest.
I’d like to carry out a simple mental experiment, and I need your help here. Could you recite off the top of your head the Ten Commandments right now? I’m sure most of us could, even if we were woken up to do this in the middle of the night. It has been hammered to our heads by countless relentless repetitions. The overall message of the Ten Commandments is positive, but it is presented in a negative way: ‘You shall not…” Now it’s time for the second part of our experiment: can you recite off by heart the Beatitudes? I don’t want to be prejudiced, but I think that most of us cannot do that. I can’t, and I’m ashamed to admit that. Nobody has hammered them into my head.
This simple experiment illustrates why we seem to lose people, particularly those of younger generations. In the long term, endlessly bashing on about vice, sin and imperfection, with nagging demands to keep the rules, is uninspiring, tiring and off-putting. Christianity has a lot to offer in a positive and inspiring way. Modern people, like many before, are looking for support in their adversities, and inspiration in order to bring out their best. Jesus in today’s gospel offers both: ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me […] and you will find rest for your souls.’ Today we hear these words addressed to each one of us. It’s an invitation to find consolation in Jesus’ arms, to find strength in Him as the leader. He’s the ultimate answer to all our doubts and fears, desires and expectations.
Christianity is the affirmation of life, of life joyous, fulfilled and meaningful, filled with inner peace. Most of us do have this kind of experience. For most of us Jesus has changed our lives for the better, He’s freed us in one way or another, and He’s made sense of outwardly meaningless bruising and battering situations. We have discovered in Him the deepest sense of life. Don’t be shy about sharing your positive experience with others. Through you, Jesus will come to them.