Carrying Life’s Burdens
Nothing is too heavy when we allow God to carry our frets
Many years ago, I visited the Holy Land. Early one morning in Jerusalem, I viewed from a small garden the bustling marketplace nearby. Farmers pushed carts of produce to sell after the cock crowed. People scurried to purchase supplies, dodging food carts, autos and barking dogs. I noticed from the garden an elderly gentleman carrying a washing machine on his back, walking uphill. The washer was tied with a rope to the thin man who had bony legs and wrinkled skin. I sat on a bench and watched him carry his heavy load home.
This image reveals for me Christ carrying his cross. The man carrying this burden still haunts me. I have prayed with this image my entire priesthood. When I feel overwhelmed, I seek him in prayer to help me carry loss and anger. When I know I can’t control the outcomes of others’ burdens, I ask for his intercession. When I experience life’s unfairness and needless cargoes of heartache or grief, I pray to see this man’s face again. This image gives me consolation when I face the heaviness of life and vocation.
On Sept. 14, the Church celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast, much like Good Friday, invites us to reflect on our burdens. The cross is beyond what we carry in procession or kiss as ritual. The cross becomes our place of victory, no matter how heavy. I believe this. Our inner burdens are redeemed in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. We lift high the wood upon which he died. We lift high our burdens before the cock crows in our personal prayer and in the light of morning Eucharist with those who long for healing.
We lift high the burdens on our backs. Some of what we carry is obvious, some pressures and weights are hidden within our souls. The Holy Cross reminds me that nothing is too heavy when I allow God to carry my past frets and even my illusions. I am not alone when I listen and walk with him. Faith in the dying and rising of Christ is a lifelong journey. Our shoulders will be lighter, our hearts will sing of him, we will not stumble or fall when at last we rest our lives in Jesus.
I realize we all carry afflictions we should not have to carry. The secrets of our lives, the long-term regrets, our histories of shame, the carelessness of sins are all burdens that pile up within us. As priests, we all face moments of darkness, our loneliness, our lack of intimacy. My body tightens on days when I still don’t think I am good enough or holy enough. We all experience many days or even years where these burdens become our only identities.
There are encumbrances we carry on our shoulders that need redemption. I can’t speak for us all. I feel the tightness in my shoulders when I am confronted with financial concerns beyond my expertise. I feel burdened when even more requirements and expectations are put on my shoulders from the chancery. The false expectations of parishioners pile up on me. The gossip, the excuses people make for leaving the parish, the abuses from my brother priests, the lack of leadership in our world all remind us that we need the freedom of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes we deal with the heavy burdens on our backs by turning inward. We may fuel the fires of addiction to alcohol, food or pornography when we feel crushed in life. When we do not feel appreciated or when people treat our priesthoods as a commodity, we so often fall. We may even lash out at those we love when fear burns our inner lives.
The beauty of this feast is that all burdens are redeemed. We are not alone. The Holy Cross teaches me to walk with people who carry such unbelievably heavy loads. I listen to a veteran recall accidentally shooting a civilian in wartime. I listen to a mother bearing a sick child over her shoulder. I listen to parents who lost careers because of the pandemic. They cannot shoulder their responsibilities. My ear is sharper and my heart kinder when I celebrate the wood of the cross even in September. The purpose of my priesthood is to give hope to those who carry unexpected burdens.
As I reflect on the man carrying a washing machine on his thin body, I remember his determined face. I don’t know why he carried the machine. It was obvious to me that he has spent his life carrying many items on his back. I long to find serenity in helping others face the burdens they bear. All I know is that Jesus redeems the weight on our shoulders.
FATHER RONALD PATRICK RAAB, CSC, serves as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and Holy Rosary Chapel in Cascade, Colorado.