Salt and Light, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), February 6, 2011 Audio Homily

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
February 6, 2011
Is 58:7-10, Ps 112:4-9, 1Cor 2:1-5, Mt 5:13-16

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click at the bottom of the page. The following text guided this homily:

LIVING UP TO OUR VOCATION TO BE SALT AND LIGHT

  • Last week we began six weeks of listening anew to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
  • The main point of the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus calls us Christians to be different than all the rest, to live by a different set of standards than good pagans who love those who love them and are good to those who are good to them. He calls us to have our righteousness surpass that of the Jewish scribes and Pharisees. He calls us in short to be like him, to be like his Father, to be holy.
  • He began last week with the beatitudes, which highlighted the difference between his wisdom and the world’s, between the path we’re called to walk and the path that others walk. Whereas the world thinks you have to be rich to be happy, Jesus says we need to be poor in spirit and treasure his kingdom above everything. Whereas the world thinks you have to be a sexual phenom to be fulfilled, Jesus says we need to be pure of heart. Whereas the world thinks we have to be powerful to get ahead, Jesus says we need to be meek and not just a peace-wanter but a peace-maker. The world says we should aspire to be popular and have everyone like us; Jesus says we should rejoice when everybody persecutes us because of him. There’s almost no greater way to describe how different we’re supposed to be than all the rest than by saying that we’re called to be men and women of the beatitudes.
  • Today Jesus describes the mission we receive from that difference. Jesus says that we have a double-mission with respect to the whole world. With unforgettable images, he says we are to be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World.
    • Notice first what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t call us the salt or light of the CHURCH, because our mission is to go out and transform the whole world, beginning, of course, with the Church. We’re different from the world not in the sense of being superior and aloof; we’re different and we have a mission to collaborate with him, as salt and light, to save the world.
    • Second, he doesn’t say, “You MUST BECOME the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World.”  He says, rather, “You ARE the Salt and Light.” This is very significant. By our baptism, we have already received this identity and vocation. The key for us is whether we are faithful to it and live it, whether we live the beatitudes, whether we distinguish ourselves from all the rest by our comformity to Christ.
  • In order to understand what this mission entails more clearly, though, we need to understand the images Jesus used and what they meant when he used them.
  • Salt of the Earth
    • There were three fundamental uses of salt in the ancient world:
      • Preservative
        • Preserved meat or fish from rotting.
        • No refrigeration in the ancient world.
        • If anything was going to last it needed this salt. The salt was different than the meat or the fish. Likewise we’re supposed to be distinct.
        • There was an ancient saying that the animal and fish that were being preserved were already dead. Salt would serve almost as a life-preserver, something that would keep the meat or fish filets from like likewise dying. It almost had a sense of the resurrection of giving them life whereas they should be dead.
        • This points to the fact that Jesus calls us to be his instrument to prevent the earth from going to corruption. We’re supposed to keep the world and others good.
        • To do this, of course, we need to have the ability to confront the corruption that we see, both at a social level as well as at the much more common personal level. We need to confront sin and help people repent of their sins. We need to have the courage to challenge people to live morally.
      • Within dung for ovens.
        • Salt served the function of starter wood for a fire or lighter fluid for a barbecue.
        • They would take animal dung, mix it with salt and then light it on fire. The dung alone couldn’t be ignited, but when it was mixed with salt, the salt would be able to be lit and then would gradually heat the dung, which kept heat for a really long time.
        • I think we gain two lessons here:
          • Salt can redeem almost anything, turning excrement into something good. As Salt of the Earth we’re called to be God’s instrument for bringing good out of the evil we encounter, to help even those who were given over to evil to start to produce good.
          • Salt is supposed to be a fire-starter. We are supposed to be easily lit and capable of heating up others. Thus it is totally incompatible for us to be waiting for someone else to light a fire under us. We’re supposed to be the starter wood, the lighter fluid. We’re called to light the world ablaze.
      • To give flavor
        • The third use of salt was the same as we use it today: to give flavor to what we consume. A little bit of salt can influence a whole meal.
        • This points to the fact that we, as Salt of the Earth, are called to give flavor, to bring joy, to the earth.
        • So many in the world think that to enjoy themselves, there has to be a frat atmosphere, where there’s plenty of booze, drugs, dim lights, lots of willing members of the opposite sex and other types of behavior that leads people to hangovers, methodone treatments, venereal diseases and so much more.
        • Jesus calls us to show what real joy in life is, to be people who are happy. We’re called to rejoice at Mass and then to take that joy out into the world.
    • Jesus says, however, that for us to fulfill this mission we need to ensure that our salt doesn’t go flat.
      • In many ways, the vast majority of us in the Church have seen our salt go flat, in each of these three ways.
        • Preservative
          • Rather than preserving the world from corruption, we’ve brought the corruption straight into the Church and allowed it to remain and get worse.
          • Just think about the clergy sex abuse crisis. Can there be any worse example of how salt can lose its saltiness? Those who were supposed to be the Lamb of God’s instruments to take away the sins of the world themselves became instruments of the most abominable evil against one of the most vulnerable populations. But even outside of actual cases of abuse, many priests have simply lost their way, not living in any way consistent with the sacrament of holy orders, because they no longer aspire to holiness at all.
          • But it’s not just with the clergy. Let’s look at Christian marriages. Christian marriages are supposed to be an example to the whole world of the love that exists between Christ and his bride the Church. Instead, when we look at the surveys,
            • Catholic husbands beat their wives and abuse their kids in the same rates as the general population.
            • Catholic spouses commit adultery at the same percentages of those in the general population.
            • Catholic spouses divorce at basically the same frequency as other couples, if you control for the factor of marriage preparation that all Catholics receive.
            • Catholic engaged couples cohabit before marriage and violate the sixth commandment at the same elevated rates as the whole population.
            • The upshot is that whereas Catholic couples are supposed to be setting an example for all the rest, rather than transform popular culture as salt, they’ve been transformed by the culture and become salt that’s lost its flavor.
          • We see this same insipid salt in the general practice of the faith.
            • We’re supposed to be a witness to people of fidelity to God, but 83% of Catholics in Massachusetts don’t even come to worship God on Sunday, the vast majority of Catholic politicians support the culture of death rather than a culture of life, many people at school or at work not only fail to give charitable fraternal correction of the bad example of others but set that example by their language, their lying, their stealing, their laziness, their envy, their vengeance and more.
            • For most Catholics, their salt has lost its preservative properties.
        • Starter
          • Likewise, with being a fire starter. Many Catholics go about the faith with no fire at all. They’re looking for someone else to light them, rather than the other way around.
        • Flavor
          • Rather than give flavor to what we encounter, we take on the flavor of what we come into contact with.
          • We identify far more with celebrities in People magazine than we do the great figures of the Bible or heroic saints of the faith.
          • We don’t bring joy to what we do. We come to Mass and most of us are dead. No enthusiasm. No singing. And then we go out and we live the faith in a quiet way, just trying to blend in rather than to be the spice of the world.
          • Jesus calls us to change all that.
    • That leads us to the second image. We’re called to be the light of the world.
      • We live in the midst of so much darkness:
        • The darkness of grief.
        • Physical pain.
        • Broken hearts.
        • Depression.
        • Ignorance
        • Sin
      • Jesus sends us out to be light for a world in darkness.
      • “The just man is a light in the darkness for the upright,” we sang in the responsorial psalm. How are we going to be this light?
      • Today’s Gospel verse tells us. It features Jesus’ words from John 8: “The man who follows me will have the light of life.” Jesus is the light of the world. He calls us to reflect his light. To do that we must follow him. We must come to know his teachings and act on them. This is the way we will be able to guide others.
      • Lights on an airport runway. That’s who we’re supposed to be for the world so that others don’t crash.
      • We’re called to pass on Jesus’ teaching, a wisdom that the world can’t know on its own, like the beatitudes we heard last week. Jesus teaches us how to live well, how to die well, how to love. We are called to bring that light to others, but in order to do so, we first need to have been illuminated by Christ and live and radiate that light. But in order to do that, we first need to know our faith well enough to pass it on.
      • The second thing that gives off light is our deeds of genuine Christian love that leads others, in seeing them, to glorify God. Just think about Blessed Mother Teresa. Her love and that of her Missionaries of Charity have brough so many, including so many non-Christians, to praise God. These are deeds like we heard about in today’s first reading, sharing our bread with the hungry, welcoming the homeless into our home, covering the naked, caring for our relatives. If we offer our food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, Isaiah tells us, then our light shall rise in the darkness and we will be like noonday to gloom.
      • But Jesus tells us that in order to do this, we need to ensure that our light doesn’t remain hidden.
        • Bushel basket image, to keep light from burning down the house when people weren’t there. But when they were, it was supposed to be on a stand.
        • Likewise our faith, our love for God and others, is supposed to be visible, not hidden.
        • Many of us are too ashamed of our faith to live it in a public way. We try to separate faith from life. Like many scandalous politicians, we pretend that our faith is private and shouldn’t influence our public life in any noticeable way. Well, our faith is intensely personal, but it’s not supposed to be private. It’s supposed to be a light for others.
      • In short, Jesus is saying that our lives are supposed to illumine the world with his light. Can people say that about us now? Can they say that they’ve learned the faith from observing us, from listening to us, from befriending us? Do our friends who are caught in the dark snare of some sin learn from us the path to freedom? Or do most of our acquaintances have no idea we’re parishioners of St. Anthony’s, that we’re Roman Catholics. Do they know more about what we think of the Red Sox or Pats or the weather than what we believe about Christ?
    • We are called to be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World in order to save the world and lead it on the path to light and life everlasting. Today in this Mass, Jesus wants to give us the graces he knows we need truly to live up to these vocations. He wants to give us his help to prevent our salt losing its saltiness and our light being hidden. But we need to respond and, with the courage that comes from the Holy Spirit, to live out that what we are.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 IS 58:7-10

Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.

Responsorial Psalm PS 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R/ (4a) The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.
or:
R/ Alleluia.
Light shines through the darkness for the upright;
he is gracious and merciful and just.
Well for the man who is gracious and lends,
who conducts his affairs with justice.
R/ The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.
or:
R/ Alleluia.
He shall never be moved;
the just one shall be in everlasting remembrance.
An evil report he shall not fear;
his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
R/ The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.
or:
R/ Alleluia.
His heart is steadfast; he shall not fear.
Lavishly he gives to the poor;
His justice shall endure forever;
his horn shall be exalted in glory.
R/ The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.
or:
R/ Alleluia.

Reading 2 1 COR 2:1-5

When I came to you, brothers and sisters,
proclaiming the mystery of God,
I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,
and my message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,
but with a demonstration of Spirit and power,
so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God.

Gospel MT 5:13-16

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”