Later this week we will celebrate our annual Prize-giving Evening as a school, focussing on how talented, caring, generous and aspirational our collective community is. The evening is about bringing together all the school: staff and students, parents, carers, families and governors to zone is on how we respond to our calling. Whether that be the Year 9 student who gives up as much of her free time to run lunchtime activities for new Year 7s, or the Year 11 who excels at computer coding, maybe it’s to recognise the Year 10 who is the first to come up with fundraising ideas and drives on their tutor group. Prize-giving is about much more than academic success, it’s about thriving in identity, being who God created me to be. In the words of St Paul in his analogy of the body, we all become a part of Christ by being the part we are meant to grow into “Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts.” (1 Cor 12:12), yet there should be no looking down on others, we succeed together and suffer together, “God himself has put the body together in such a way as to give greater honour to those parts that need it. And so there is no division in the body, but all its different parts have the same concern for one another. If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness”. (1 Cor 12:24-26).
We have heard the iconic words of St John Henry Newman from his Mission of my Life many times before I’m sure, but for a school that was named after the most recent English Saint before becoming St Gregory’s Catholic College, it seems appropriate to reflect again:
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.
This passage sums up how we should see our annual event: individual vocations, celebrations of both personal and collective successes, mission and the dependency of being bonded together.
This weekend’s Gospel from Matthew (11:25-30), is one of those where we are called to focus on the words of Jesus and take on board his teaching. The first part of the Gospel is one that we Chaplain’s use as a go to Gospel for celebrations of young people, with Jesus making it abundantly clear that we all need to see the world through the eyes of a child from time to time, “Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.” We can only imagine the anger and rage on the faces of the learned and clever Pharisees, who cannot understand that Jesus – stood before their eyes, fulfilling messianic prophecies galore – is recognised clearer by children.
Could it also have been referring to the ability of children to instinctively know right from right? Not knowing yet how trickery, being devious, sarcastic or clever with the way one presents themselves or speaks. As a parent of three children under 6 it’s refreshing to be confident that they are still receptive enough to take at face value what we as parents teach them is right and wrong. The same could also be said of children’s sense of justice and emotional sensitivity. They seem heightened enough to comprehend when someone is hurt, or if another child is not sharing, as well as discerning love and affection. There is less of a selfish streak.
The second part of the Gospel Jesus speaks about being overburdened and struggling, and how he can be the solution – “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.” How many of us can hold up our hand and say we’ve felt overburdened, worked hard or in need of rest? I suspect for our own personal reasons, in our own way, almost every one of us.
I remember at the beginning of lockdown there were lots of memes and comments going around about our grandparents were asked to go to war, we’ve just been asked to sit down and stay at home. But in reality, we’ve discovered these last few months many new challenges and struggles. The emotional strain has been a huge burden where families and friends have been unable to connect and many of us have lost loved ones and struggled to give them the send-off they deserve. Lack of leisure and recreation has worn down our energy levels. Getting used to new ways and practices in the workplace, as well as work/home life balance have put added emotional and financial pressure on us. Then there are those who have been made redundant already, left in uncertainty or worry for the future.
I suspect that the last point about employment is going to become a real hard hitter for quite a long time in a post peak Covid-19 society. As I merrily enjoyed using my phone as a scanner, or the super quick hand held devices in supermarkets of late, I couldn’t help but ask the question “What are the long term effects of us becoming so used to using this form of scanning and payment on employment? Are the very people who 3 months ago were pushed to such lengths and endured unacceptable abuse in the peak of panic buying, now going to be cast aside? Last week we heard of airbus cutting 1700 jobs in the UK, Upper Crust cutting 5000 roles, 700 at Harrods, 600 at TM Lewin, 2000 at EasyJet, TOPSHOP 400 and the list is ever increasing each day. Those in charge of companies restructure, recalculate and try to guarantee the survival of their business. Workers lower down the chain await news of how indispensable they are. If we look back to the Gospel all these people are looking at the very same subject – ‘Burden and yoke’. How much financial burden can they take before the company goes under? How many people can they continue to afford to pay? How hard does each person work for their pay? Can I show my employers that they need me? Does my boss understand how much I rely on this job?
If you look back at what Jesus spoke of when he mentioned burdens and yokes, he also spoke of ”being gentle and humble of heart”. There’s no easy solution I can give here, but amongst the challenges out there, it would be only right for decision makers to recall these words too. How can we be gentle and humble in the way forward. How can that generosity, both financially and of spirit be replicated in a challenging environment? How can we find others ways to shoulder the burden and carry the load? Might we have to accept the circumstances we find ourselves in and be truly honest about it. As I look forward to Autumn planning, I was putting Harvest into the calendar and felt guilty about the prospect of leading a campaign asking the St Gregory’s family for donations. But on reflection, there will be so many more in our community who will be reliant upon the generosity of those of us who can spare a little – even if it is the widow’s pennies. There was such a painful realisation that the world needs more of us who share a common morality that values every human being last week. It came in the news that Donald Trump used the power and wealth of his nation to buy up 100% of a drug, remsdesivir, which was showing signs of helping people recover quicker from Covid-19. He then went on to buy up 90% of future worldwide supplies until October. Admittedly, the US is suffering massively with the effects of the virus, but what does it say when one nation takes everything and leaves every other nation without. Or to put it another way, 200 people are sick, the wealthiest man uses that money to buy all the medicine for himself, for an immediate cure and for if he possibly remains sick, leaving the poorest in the world with no way of accessing medicine now or in the future.
Our faith is rooted in action, in caring for our neighbour and shouldering burden so that we can call one another brothers and sisters in Christ. When that burden and weariness becomes too much, we fall back upon the words of the Gospel above once more. Jesus is telling us that his yoke is easy and burden light. Open up who we are and lean on Christ in prayer, renew our faith by accepting that Christ is by our side and guiding us. Our places of worship are beginning to reopen, the doors are flung aside to welcome our presence back into God’s house and to be alongside other family who share the values and love that Christ offers. The future is bound to be a new struggle, full of challenges, so it calls for a little sacrifice from each of us and always looking at the bigger picture with a generous heart.
I’ll leave you with a meditation from unfoldinglight.net on the Gospel.
Mr M Robinson
A mediation on Matthew 11.28-30
Come to me, all you who are weary
and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
Christ, I come to you.
I lay down my burden.
I rest in you.
Take my yoke upon you,
I share your burden,
your love for the world.
I am yoked with you,
your life and death and life.
I am one with you always,
side by side,
not running ahead of you,
not wandering off,
and learn from me;
Each moment I learn from you,
watching your eyes, your hands,
imitating your movements.
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
Yoke of gentleness, lay upon me.
Hold me in my anxiousness,
guide me in my impatience,
bring me along when I falter.
and you will find rest for your souls.
Rest of Christ,
For my yoke is easy,
Not my worries,
but compassion for the world.
Not my effort,
but yours in me, yoked.
and my burden is light.
This burden lifts me,