When the Journey Seems Long

“Whenever we get tired — in our work, in our studies, in our apostolic endeavors — when our horizon is darkened by lowering clouds, then let us turn our eyes to Jesus, to Jesus who is so good, and who also gets tired…”
Friends of God, no. 201

Christian life on earth is often called a journey, a pilgrimage. Even on our best days in this world, we never feel entirely at home here, entirely comfortable or at rest. We’re not supposed to.

Our journey is unique. It isn’t self-initiated. It is the response to a call, an invitation, even to a shepherd’s ‘whistle.’ The fact that no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him explains every disciple’s uneasiness at making a home of this world, even lingering anywhere for too long. We are a gathered, sought-after people, as Ezekiel says, pursued by God Himself: “I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out” (Ez 34:11).

And why? To bring us home to be with Him forever:

I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all sides, and bring them to their own land… and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (see Ez 37:21-23)

That is the promise of the Old Covenant in a nutshell: When the Messiah comes, God will gather together His people as a shepherd calls His sheep:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-29)

But as Jesus gathers His flock in Judea and Galilee, and as many are drawn to Him from all sides, all that the Pharisees and chief priests see is a potential threat to their power. The gospel shows them very coolly discussing the destruction of Jesus, removing Him from the scene because He poses a threat to their power and security.

A disturbing conversation ensues:

This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation. (John 11:47-48)

Caiaphas, the most ‘sensible’ one among them, offers the obvious solution.

You know nothing at all. You do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish. (Jn 11:49-50)

But what about the goal, the point of revealed religion? What about salvation? What about the one flock and the one shepherd? What about our common journey home to the Father’s house? They have missed the point of the Old Testament promises. The only salvation that counts for them is deliverance from Roman occupation.

God only knows how they ended up that way, but they probably didn’t start out that way. That’s the warning for us.

Between point A and point B of our journey, we can take our eyes off of the goal and get sidetracked. By what? Sinful things are always candidates—St John’s trio of worldly pitfalls, “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 Jn 2:16), always have the power to entice. But as in the case of the Sanhedrin, even people who claim to serve God can go astray by making their service itself into its own end.

Maybe those very places St Josemaria identifies as our sources of fatigue could be the culprits: work, studies, apostolic endeavors. Even the apostle must take care not to make secondary things into the main thing. As soon as we lower our sights to ground level, then we’re doing the right things for the wrong reasons, and suffering the consequences: rewards that never satisfy, work that never pays off, success that fails to fulfill.

We all want to serve the Lord, but we also want to find satisfaction in our service. We want the encouragement of success along the way to keep our steps moving forward. But when the going gets tough and tiring, where do we look for rest and reassurance? Jesus Himself issues a warning about servants like us awaiting their master’s return: Since the master was long in coming, a certain servant began to lose sight of his goal. He began to treat his fellow servants badly and to indulge himself in food and drink.

Understanding our struggles from the inside, Jesus broadly extends the most compelling invitation to those who labor and find life burdensome: “Come to me, and I will give you rest.” Rest along the journey is found not in success or countable profits, but only in nearness to the Lord.

To persevere on our journey home to the Father’s house, we have to listen to the voice of Him who says: “The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them” (Is 50:4). This is the Messiah speaking, gathering in the tired pilgrims whose journey is constantly fretted by the pride and lust of the world.

If we’ve gotten tired along the way, have we forgotten to look to the tired God-Man for understanding and strength? Isn’t His exhaustion—exactly His exhaustion in seeking out His flock—the focus of Holy Week? The journey of His passion, the repeated falls along the sorrowful way, all show the Lord-Shepherd sparing nothing in pursuit of us. His strength, His blood and breath, are all totally spent for our sake.

On the eve of Holy Week, our eyes and ears should be trained in this one direction only. We should not fail to contemplate the love that is carving out a pathway for us. Jesus is blazing the only trail that we can take through this world. He who says, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to myself,” is drawing us. At the moment of His supreme agony, exhaustion, and even of defeat, He draws us.

If we can meet Him there, on the cross, we will see from that vantage point the love that moves the Lord to empty Himself for us. And His weakness will renew us in our weariness to carry on our own journey until we join the Son of Man in His risen glory.

Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem. Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem.

Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he is a formator in his community's seminary, preaches retreats, is chaplain to several communities of women religious, serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California, and is author of Praying from the Depths of the Psalms (Scepter Publishers 2019) and Home Again: A Prayerful Rediscovery of Your Catholic Faith (Scepter Publishers 2020). Father's latest book is Scatter My Darkness: Turning Night to Day with the Gospel (Scepter Publishers 2021). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.

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