Robert Bellarmine, reflecting on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 11 that “my yoke is easy, my burden light,” explains it in terms of love of God and the joy and happiness that it produces, in this life, and eternally. For September 17, his feast day.
S weet Lord, you are meek and merciful. Who would not give himself wholeheartedly to your service, if he began to taste even a little of your fatherly rule? What command, Lord, do you give your servants? “Take my yoke upon you,” you say. And what is this yoke of yours like? “My yoke,” you say, “is easy and my burden light.” [Matthew 11:28-30]
A Yoke that Caresses, A Burden that Refreshes
Who would not be glad to bear a yoke that does no press hard but caresses? Who would not be glad for a burden that does not weigh heavy but refreshes? And so you were right to add: “And you will find rest for your souls.” And what is this yoke of yours that does not weary, but gives rest? It is, of course, that first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” What is easier, sweeter, more pleasant, than to love goodness, beauty, and love, the fullness of which you are, O Lord, my God?
More than we can Imagine
Is it not true that you promise those who keep your commandments a reward more desirable than great wealth and sweeter than honey? You promise a most abundant reward, for as your apostle James says: “The Lord has prepared a crown of life for those who love him.” What is this crown of life? It is surely a greater good than we can conceive of or desire, as Saint Paul says, quoting Isaiah: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Love is the Goal & the Reward
Truly then the recompense is great for those who keep your commandments. That first and greatest commandment helps the man who obeys, not the God who commands. In addition, the other commandments of God perfect the man who obeys them. They provide him with what he needs. They instruct and enlighten him and make him good and blessed.
If you are wise, then, know that you have been created for the glory of God and your own eternal salvation. This is your goal; this is the center of your life; this is the treasure of your heart. If you fail to reach it, you will find misery.
The Glory of God & Eternal Happiness
May you consider truly good whatever leads to your goal and truly evil whatever makes you fall away from it. Prosperity and adversity, wealth and poverty, health and sickness, honors and humiliations, life and death, in the mind of the wise man, are not to be sought for their own sake, nor avoided for their own sake. But if they contribute to the glory of God and your eternal happiness, then they are good and should be sought. If they detract from this, they are evil and must be avoided.
This reflection on “my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11:30) is an excerpt from from On the Ascent of the Mind to God (Grad.i: opera omnia 6, edit. 1962, 214) by Saint Robert Bellarmine. It appears in the Roman Office of readings for the memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine on September 17. (intro and headings by Dr. Italy).