by Father John Cush
When I was a seminarian at the North American College in Rome, one of the week’s biggest events was Tuesday night formation. The seminary program in Rome is slightly different than most major seminaries in the U.S. The academic formation was done at one of the pontifical universities. Most of us took our classes either with Jesuits at the Gregorian University or with Dominicans at the Angelicum. The pastoral formation, preparing us for the parochial life as a priest was done “in house,” in the evening at the North American College.
In my second year of theology, we had a class in homiletics, the theology, spirituality and art of preaching. The very first Gospel on which I was assigned to preach was today’s passage from the Evangelist Matthew.
It was difficult to find an aspect on which to preach all those years ago. I remember that nothing jumped out to me. Now, when I read these powerful words from the Lord Jesus, words which I have proclaimed at Mass many times, many ideas jump out at me. It’s difficult to choose one that will have me within the limits of space for this article.
What strikes me the most now that didn’t all those years ago? It is the words of the Lord Jesus: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” What word of comfort, of peace, of blessed assurance are these! How I long each day to hear, through prayer, these words expressed to me by Jesus.
What’s different? Why do these words mean more now than they did all those years ago? The words of the Gospel haven’t changed, but I have. My life is different. I have gone from someone who was discerning a vocation to the priesthood to one who is serving as a priest. I have gone from someone who was studying and taking classes to someone who is now teaching classes. I have had many more experiences that have come with just being alive, experiencing life, being a human in the course of everyday events. It’s a big difference from being a 23-year-old to being a 39-year-old!
When I hear the words of the Gospel, I think of the problems, difficulties, fears, anxieties that I have experienced throughout my own life. I think of those times when I might have felt overwhelmed, or that I could never accomplish something. Through it all, Jesus, the Lord, our God, our Savior, He, who, through the mystery of the Incarnation, has become our brother, a man like us in all things but sin, helped me carry the burden. Jesus carried me along when I couldn’t even crawl. His presence was so close to me at times that, absorbed in myself and the things of this world, I thought Him to be absent. Like the old poem, Footprints, there were times when I thought I was alone and all along, it was Jesus getting me through the tough situations of my life.
Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever heard a Gospel that you know so well, one that you can practically recite from memory as if you were hearing it for the first time? Why is that? Simply because, to use a phrase from the great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo, the Gospel is “ever ancient, ever new.”
The divinely inspired words of Sacred Scripture are always active and alive. These words of everlasting life are meant to be forever canonized, but always changing, getting to our hearts, touching our minds, penetrating our souls fresh and new every single time that we hear them.
Thank God for the gift of the inspired Word of God. It speaks to us each day, giving us new courage, fresh insight, true joy. All we need to do is to have the ears to hear the gift of gracious wisdom that is presented before us each time the Scriptures are proclaimed. God always has something fresh and new, always relevant to say to us in every stage of our lives.
“…What was hidden from the learned and clever you have revealed to the merest children,” as we hear in today’s Gospel. We are those blessed children to whom the Lord addresses these words of comfort. On another day, they might be words of challenge, or a life lesson to be learned. In all situations, they’re the words of everlasting life.
Readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Father John Cush teaches English and theology at Cathedral Prep Seminary, Elmhurst, where he also serves as spiritual director and director of development and alumni affairs.