Exams are finished, report cards have been issued, and “summer vacation” has begun at Holy Cross Lake View Senior Secondary School. Students will be away until the end of January – when the first term of the 2012 academic year will begin. For weeks now, they have been talking excitedly about their plans for celebrating Christmas!
Thursday, December 1st was move-out day. From early in the morning, the school compound was littered with trunks, mattresses, mosquito nets, and overflowing bags, as students prepared to carry their belongings home – by bus, by private automobile or by “boda-boda” (Uganda’s popular motorcycle taxi). Some live within walking distance of the school, others live in distant regions of Uganda, and a few come from the neighboring countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda. As I watched students struggle to carry their belongings, I found myself wondering how they would get all these things home!
Carrying heavy loads is a daily task in East Africa. Overloaded pickup trucks struggle to move along washed-out dirt roads. Men balance anything and everything – plastic jugs of water, enormous sacks of charcoal, bundles of produce to sell at the market, even bed frames – on their bicycles, slowly walking alongside as they patiently push their loads. And women (sometimes even young girls) gracefully carry overflowing baskets on their heads, never once reaching up to steady them.
In conversations with my students, I am reminded that these burdens that I see are only a shadow of the burdens that the East African people carry within their hearts. Students wonder whether their families will be able to afford their school fees. Their parents worry about where they will find the money to buy food for their children. Crushing realities like poverty, domestic violence, and life-threatening disease are only a few of the burdens that weigh heavily upon the shoulders of these people.
Wherever we live, whoever we are, each of us carries heavy burdens. Some are exposed for all to see. Others are hidden in the depths of our soul. Perhaps we are not even aware of all of the burdens that we carry. We shoulder them daily, and often there seems to be no rest for our tired bodies and weary spirits.
As we journey through this season of Advent, we wait for the fulfillment of God’s timeless promise: to come and dwell among us. We proclaim our belief that our God is coming to save us! And, as we walk through the darkness, we catch glimmers of this hope. God calls out to us. God comforts us. God surprises us. God comes to us! We experience this presence when friends and neighbors – even total strangers – help us to carry our burdens. Slowly, we become aware that our God is walking beside us, that Jesus is gently lifting our burdens onto His shoulders and carrying them – and us – toward the Cross.
And it is when we stand there – where Jesus’ tired body hands over His weary Spirit – it is there that we are freed from our burdens. It is there we are conformed to Christ, whose yoke is easy and burden is light. It is there that we wait in joyful hope – to be caught up in God’s eternal embrace, who will come again in glory! That’s the Cross and its hope.
Mr. Mark DeMott, C.S.C., is a temporarily professed seminarian spending a ministry year in East Africa teaching at Holy Cross Lake View Senior Secondary School in Jinja, Uganda. He is a monthly contributor to the Spes Unica blog reflecting on seminary life in Holy Cross. Learn more about seminary formation for priesthood and religious life in the Congregation. Also learn more about the work of Holy Cross in mission in East Africa.