Every couple of years I ask my students:
Can any of you think of a set of rules or instructions about how to live that would make life easier than those which are embodied under the name of Christianity?
And if that doesn’t register I try to ask the same question in a number of different ways:
Is Christ’s “yoke” really easy? Is it an easier yoke than, say, that which another religion might propose?
Is there a way of life that is easier to live than the one which Christ proposes?
Does Our Lord really offer an easy yoke and a light burden? Far be it from me to suggest that He, in what some might call praiseworthy marketing of an absolutely divine product, might have succumbed to the temptation that besets some salesmen – that is, to exaggerate the advantages of the product while remaining silent about the disadvantages.
One could hardly blame Our Lord for a little hyperbole about selling the path to salvation. And, if I remember correctly, He did in fact hyperbolize on at least one other occasion.
But so far, based on the many discussions with my students over the years, I am still convinced that the precepts and instructions that Jesus offers for living life do, in fact, instruct us how to live life most easily.
That is to say, that should we ever conduct a longitudinal study with charts, tables and graphs, the empirical evidence will bear out this claim. Christianity offers the very easiest way to live.
As a matter of fact, I think Our Lord could have said something like this,
Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you…. for My yoke is the easiest, and My burden is the lightest!
There! I think Our Lord could have said that if he wanted to.
But then, perhaps people would have dismissed it as being nothing other than the regular salesman’s pitch to which I have already alluded.
Three Reasons Why the Christian Yoke is Easiest
I can think of at least three reasons why the yoke and burden that signifies the Christian life is easier and lighter than that offered by any other kind of life.
The first reason is a negative reason. The non-Christian life involves becoming a slave to any one of four things. What are these four types of slavery? Succinctly and directly stated they are:
- the slavery to passion
- the slavery to fashion
- the slavery to custom
- the slavery to error
Suppose we decide that rather than following Our Lord’s commands of charity we think it easier to simply follow our passions. Those who view the Christian life as a heavy yoke and a heavy burden are probably inclined to view it this way because such are already enslaved to some extent by their passions. The passions appear to be the most popular among yoke alternatives.
Whether we have a difficult time fighting the passions that impel us towards delicious food and drink (e.g. see my Easter feast) or a difficult time fighting the concupiscible passions that would appear to be almost universal according to the media and Hollywood, I would dare say that the slavery to these passions alone are enough to incline anyone to take a dim view of Our Lord’s injunctions.
History and Literature and our own experience provide us with ample evidence of the heartbreak, suffering, and catastrophe that is brought about by those who are enslaved by their passions. If I remember correctly, the first great work of literature (to which every other imaginative work stands as a sort of footnote) had something to do with the passion for a very beautiful woman.
Not to dwell excessively on the difficulties that the slavery to passion entails, but is there any one who would say that Henry VIII had an easy life?
Those who follow their passions not only bring a great deal of difficulty upon themselves but also upon the rest of us. It would have been a great deal simpler and much easier for everyone if we could have avoided the whole split-up of the church in England and the attendant turmoil, civil war and death that it incurred.
The second reason why the Christian yoke is the easiest stems from the principle precept of Christianity which is Charity. It’s clear to me that, as difficult as it is to find charity in my heart for everyone (especially my enemies), the alternative is more difficult.
Friendship and charity are key pillars which sustain every society. Some level of trust and good will is necessary to accomplish any kind of transaction. And to the extent that charity abounds in a society, to that extent will it exist in peace. Even a band of theives or pirates will have a cohesion in some sort of fraternal feeling.
I suppose the alternatives to living a life of charity are at best living a life according to pure self-interest, and at worst living according to hate. Let him who would defend these as easier principles to live by step forward and defend them.
Frank Capra did an excellent job promoting the principles of charity and friendship as the basis for a happy society. No one really wants to be Mr. Potter!
The third reason why Our Lord’s yoke is the easiest is that Christianity appears to be the only religion which is grounded upon principles that are perfectly suited to human nature. As St. Thomas Aquinas continuously teaches, grace builds on nature. Not only that, but grace even perfects nature! (Gratia naturam perficit.)
Rather like an ill fitting suit of clothes for the body, I think it must become unbearably tiring to belong to a religion which is inconsistent with human nature. Particularly to belong to one of those religions which propose something other than the knowledge of God as the supreme end to which man is directed.
All men by nature desire to know
How wonderful it is to realize that our last end is nothing other than the sublime fulfillment of our most fundamental natural desire!
As St John confirms,
Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
Is there any religion which proposes an end which is on the one hand so entirely consistent with man’s intellectual nature, and on the other so sublimely transcendent?
I think not. And I would propose that deep within the heart of everyone who does not live according to the precepts of the Christian religion there must necessarily exist a fundamental tension- some kind of ontological cognitive dissonance – that would make life difficult to live.
Our Lord’s yoke is easy and his burden is light because as the divine artisan he has fashioned and designed them to perfectly fit our human nature. He, through Whom, and with Whom, and in Whom all things came to be, is the one through, with, and in Whom our lives will be most joyfully lived.