An Invitation to Rest

20 July 2006: Thursday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 26, 7-9.12.16-19; Psalm 102; Matthew 11, 28-30

The first reading is a lamentation psalm in which the psalmist looks back at all his past and sees all his fruitless labor and longs for God’s comfort. In the Gospel today, Jesus invites us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and find burdensome, and I will give you rest.” The Gospel is both an invitation and a promise: an invitation that whoever is burdened will find comfort in Him just as the psalmist in the first reading desired for God’s consoling embrace; and a promise of rest.

Many of us think that if a three-day work is good, then a six-day work is even better. Or if a five-day study is good, then a seven-days of study is even better. To those who exercise, if a three-day workout is good, then daily workout is even better. However, scientific study tells us that high-intensity work done every single day will eventually lead to burnouts and injury. One of the benefits of resting is that we allow our muscles, tendons and ligaments the time to repair themselves. To the body builder, the principle that muscle mass increases during down time --- that is, during rest --- is true. But it is not just muscles. Research shows that getting sufficient sleep is greatly beneficial. James Maas, Cornell psychology professor, tells us that if we get less than eight hours of sleep at night, working or studying is impaired. There is less alertness, productivity, creativity and generally health is affected. The reason is that in the 7th to 8th hour, we get an hour of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the time when the mind repairs itself and grows new connections.

What science tells us now, God has agreed since the beginning of time. One of the primary reasons for the 3rd commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day is rest. Just as the muscles, tendons and ligaments needed time to repair themselves, Sunday is used to repair or enrich our relationships with our family and friends. Just as muscle mass increases during down time, the muscles of our relationships are strengthened by restful activity such as eating together, watching movies together, having coffee with a good friend, coming to mass with those you love, and praying. Just as God rested in the story of creation, Psalm 127 says, “It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones."

But rest is not just for us. It is also for everything in creation. Exodus 23 tells us, "Work for six days, and rest on the seventh. This will give your ox and your donkey a chance to rest. It will also allow the people of your household, including your slaves and visitors, to be refreshed." Today’s interpretation is this: our computer also needs some rest.

In other words, when Jesus invites us to rest, he is saying that to pause --- as people say, smell the flowers --- is a necessity. We give time for growth. Resting, relaxation, sleeping, playing, taking private time for ourselves is part of our faith. Our faith is not just a faith of action; it is also a faith of being.

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