Inspired Salt and Light, Tenth Tuesday (II), June 10, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Landry, Bishop of Parish (+660)
June 10, 2014
1 Kings 17:7-16, Ps 4, Mt 5:13-16

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • During these days right after Pentecost, we continue to ponder the difference the Holy Spirit is called to make in every Christian life. Today in the Gospel Jesus calls us to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. We’ve heard these phrases so often that their shock value and their scale can be lost on us. Many of us find it a challenge to be the salt of our family or the light of our block of the street. Jesus is calling us to be the salt of the entire earth and the light of the whole world. That task is clearly beyond our natural capacities. But what’s impossible for us is not impossible for God. It is part of the mission of the Holy Spirit to help us to become that salt and that light in such a way that through us he may renew the world with that salt and light. For us to grasp, however, how the Holy Spirit does this, we first need to know what Jesus means when he calls us to be salt and light.
  • In the ancient world, salt had three purposes. The first was as a preservative. There was no refrigeration in ancient Palestine and so to preserve meat or fish from corruption, they covered it with salt. This points to how we as Christians are sent out by Jesus to help others from going bad. The second function was what we still use salt for today, to give flavor. A little bit of salt can make a big difference between tasty or bland food. In a similar way, Christians are meant to bring this flavor, personality, joy and life to the environments we inhabit. The third purpose is as a fire starter. There was no lighter fluid or starter wood for fires in the ancient world. What they’d do is take dung and mix it with salt and light these salted dung pellets on fire. Alone, dung wouldn’t ignite, but the salt would get the whole thing started and once the dung was lit, it could burn hot for a long time. Similarly, Christians are supposed to be that fire starter. Others may be very difficult to get going and we may feel that we’re surrounded by manure, but Christians are supposed to be able to bring good of almost anything.
  • The Holy Spirit helps us in all three of these purposes as the great Latin hymns the Veni, Creator Spiritus that we sang during the pre-Pentecost novena and the Veni, Sancte Spiritus we intoned as the Sequence on Pentecost itself attest. The Holy Spirit preserves our salt from going insipid. We sang to him on Sunday in the Sequence, “Sine tuo numine, nihil est innoxium,” “Without the nod of your will, nothing is harmless in man.” We asked him, “Hostes repellas longius,” “repel the enemy far from us.” We asked him “Fove quod est frigidum,” “fire up what needs to be ignited.” He is the one who helps us to live up to this three-fold vocation to be salt.
  • The second part of the vocation Jesus gives us today is to be the “light of the world.” There are two fundamental purposes for light. The first is to help people to see. The second is to warm. The Christian is called to do both. Our lives are supposed to be luminescent. We’re supposed to be light the lights on a landing strip at an airport on a foggy night that help planes land. In the midst of many walking in valleys of darkness, Christians are called to burn with the light so that others can follow us in following Jesus the Light of the World. Similarly, light gives off warmth, and we Christians are called by Jesus to warm others by the fire of divine love. People approaching us should feel like someone cold approaching a lit fireplace.
  • It’s the Holy Spirit who helps us to carry out these tasks. He illumines and warms us and makes it possible for us to do the same for others. In the Veni, Sancte Spiritus sequence we sang on Pentecost, we asked him, “Emitte caelitus, lucis tuae radium” “from your celestial home, send a ray of your light.” We invited him, “Veni, lumen cordium,” “Come, light of our hearts.”  We called him, O lux beatissima,” “O Blessed Light,” and begged, “reple cordis intima tuorum fidelium, “fill the innermost parts of the heart of your faithful.” In the novena hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, we call the Holy Spirit “ignis” (fire) and ask him, “accende lumen sensibus, infunde amorem cordibus,” “turn on the light to our senses, and infuse your love into our hearts.” The Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost as tongues of fire so that we might grasp that we get the fire to proclaim with ardent love the faith we have received from him. He wants to help us to throw off the bushel baskets and let the whole world see and feel the warmth of that divine fire.
  • How do we best transform the world as salt and light? We do so fundamentally through the charity united to the truth about what’s genuinely best for others. When people are left without care, when other people are left without God, when they can’t sense God’s love through those who claim to be his followers, they are susceptible to all types of alternatives. Charity has this preservative, flavorful, and flammable function like salt. Likewise, there’s simply no greater witness to the light and beauty of our faith than when we care for others, especially those for whom the world doesn’t lift a finger.
  • Today we see examples of the salt- and light-like properties of charity in the widow of Zarephath in today’s first reading and in the life of the saint we celebrate today. The widow with faith trusted in what Elijah told her and gave all she had to feed him, and God blessed her such that she and her son didn’t starve to death in the famine because the flour and oil didn’t run out for a whole year. Jesus in the Synagogue of Nazareth told us that this was because of her faith and her hospitality. She charitably welcomed Elijah and was willing to feed him rather than try to preserve her own life or even her son’s. And God rewarded that charity. Her own salt with regard to others because her own preservative.
  • Likewise today we celebrate the feast of St. Landry, Bishop of Paris from 650-660. During a time of famine, he sold all his personal property and even the furniture and vessels of the Church to care for the poor. Likewise, there were no real hospitals to care for the sick in the day, but he founded a hospital called Hotel Dieu next to Notre Dame Cathedral, an institution that still is present today. This charitable work preserved the faith, preserved real people from death and despair, and gave of a light that still burns 1350 years later.
  • Today we come forward to this Mass, which is a little Pentecost. It’s here the Holy Spirit preserves us, flavors us, ignites us, illumines us and warms us — and sends us forth united with him to be the salt and light the earth so much needs. Come, Holy Spirit!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 KGS 17:7-16

The brook near where Elijah was hiding ran dry,
because no rain had fallen in the land.
So the LORD said to Elijah:
“Move on to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.
I have designated a widow there to provide for you.”
He left and went to Zarephath.
As he arrived at the entrance of the city,
a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her,
“Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.”
She left to get it, and he called out after her,
“Please bring along a bit of bread.”
She answered, “As the LORD, your God, lives,
I have nothing baked;
there is only a handful of flour in my jar
and a little oil in my jug.
Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks,
to go in and prepare something for myself and my son;
when we have eaten it, we shall die.”
Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid.
Go and do as you propose.
But first make me a little cake and bring it to me.
Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.
For the LORD, the God of Israel, says,
‘The jar of flour shall not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”
She left and did as Elijah had said.
She was able to eat for a year, and Elijah and her son as well;
the jar of flour did not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 4:2-3, 4-5, 7B-8

R. (7a) Lord, let your face shine on us.
When I call, answer me, O my just God,
you who relieve me when I am in distress;
Have pity on me, and hear my prayer!
Men of rank, how long will you be dull of heart?
Why do you love what is vain and seek after falsehood?
R. Lord, let your face shine on us.
Know that the LORD does wonders for his faithful one;
the LORD will hear me when I call upon him.
Tremble, and sin not;
reflect, upon your beds, in silence.
R. Lord, let your face shine on us.
O LORD, let the light of your countenance shine upon us!
You put gladness into my heart,
more than when grain and wine abound.
R. Lord, let your face shine on us.

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.”