Our Amen as Salt and Light to God’s Faithful Yes, 10th Tuesday (I), June 13, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Anthony of Lisbon
June 13, 2017
2 Cor 1:18-22, Ps 119, Mt 5:13-16

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in today’s homily: 

  • There’s an important prehistory to today’s first reading, taken from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. Paul had promised to make a return visit to Corinth, but because of sufferings and hardship he had not yet been able to come. Those who were opposed to his message of conversion took upon themselves to try to persuade others that he was unreliable: if he couldn’t even be trusted to keep his word about whether he would be coming to Corinth, how could anything else he said — about God, for example — be reliable? Paul wrote that the source of his veracity is found in God. “As God is faithful,” he said, and then he gave a beautiful witness to how Jesus is the fulfillment, the definitive “yes” to all God’s promises. “For however many are the promises of God,” he wrote, “their Yes is in him.” And Jesus’ yes, he continues, is the source of our own. “The Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.” God is the one, he asserts, “who gives us security with you in Christ” and “anointed us,” and “put his seal upon us” and “given the Spirit in our hearts.” God is faithful, God fulfills his promises, and our response to God is to reciprocate that fidelity but maintaining our fidelity to his covenants and imitating his yes. Jesus would say in the Sermon on the Mount, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one” (Mt 5:37). St. James himself would echo it: “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No,’ that you may not incur condemnation” (James 5:12). As Christians we don’t vacillate. Christ, Paul, James all want to help us imitate God’s fidelity, and when we say yes to God to persevere in it.
  • Jesus describes for us in today’s Gospel how he wishes for us to make our life an Amen to God. He wants us to live up to our vocation and commitment to be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. What are we saying yes to in responding to these vocations?
  • In calling us to be the Salt of the Earth, Jesus summons us to a three-fold fidelity.
    • The first is as a preservative. Salt was used to preserve meat or fish from rotting. There was obviously no electricity and therefore refrigeration in the ancient world. If any fish or meat was going to last in the sweltering Middle Eastern climate, it needed to be salted. The salt was different than the meat or the fish, pointing to the fact that as Christians we’re supposed to be distinct from the world, in it but not of it. There was something more. 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, giving them life whereas they, like the fish or animals from which they came, should be dead. All of this points to the fact that Jesus calls us to be his instrument to prevent the earth from going to corruption, from dying. We’re supposed to keep the world and others good. We all know that there are certain people who when they walk into a room keep others on their best behavior, not because others are afraid of them, but because they lift others to a higher standard by the way they themselves live. Jesus wants us to be like that person. Does our presence cause others to change behavior, to police their language, to speak more about faith, to find opportunities to serve others? Or are we inert or someone who by our thoughts, words and actions induce others toward worse conduct?
    • The second purpose is to start a fire. I apologize if what I’m about to say will gross some people out, but it’s key to grasping what Jesus in teaching. At Jesus’ time, people would take animal dung, mix it with a lot of 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. Salt was the ancient equivalent of starter wood or lighter fluid for a barbecue. In calling us to be the Salt of the Earth in this way, Jesus is reminding us of two parts of our mission. First, we see in this use of salt that salt can redeem almost anything, even turning excrement into something good and useful. 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 producing something good. Secondly, salt is supposed to be a fire-starter. We are supposed to 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. Do we by our presence inflame with love for God and others?
    • The third and final function of salt at Jesus’ time is what we’ve maintained today, to give flavor to the food we consume. A little bit of salt as we know can influence a whole meal. This points to the fact that we, as salt of the earth, are called to give flavor so that others can “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” we’re supposed to bring joy. So many in the world think that to enjoy themselves, there has to be a frat house 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, STDs and other regrettable and preventable consequences. Jesus calls us to show what real joy in life is, to be people who are happy, who are truly blessed by living together with Jesus as the cause of our joy. We come here to Jesus who says to us each time, “I have come so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete!.” And we’re called to bring that joy to the world.
    • Jesus calls us not to let our saltiness become insipid but to remain faithful to preventing our faith and others’ from being corrupted, to starting the fire of faith, and to bringing joy to the world.
  • In calling us to be the Light of the Word, Jesus is similarly summoning us to do other functions.
    • The first is to illumine. Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel, “The man who follows me will have the light of life.” Jesus himself is the light of the world and he calls us to reflect his light; the only way we can do that is to follow him. It’s not enough just to know him and his teachings. We need to follow him, to walk as he walked, to love as he loved, to care as he cares, to do as he has done. The way we give off light for others is by following Christ so that they can follow us along the path of light on which Christ himself is guiding us. We Christians are supposed to be like indicator lights on an airport runaway so that the people of the world in the midst of a ferocious storm at night don’t crash but can land safely on the airstrip of heaven. Jesus wants us to radiate what he teaches us about how to live well, how to love well, how to die well so as to live for other, to others, to enflesh his teaching to such a degree that others see the light of his way of life shining from within us almost without our even trying. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that the way we give off his light is through deeds of genuine Christian love that leads others, in seeing them, to glorify God.
    • The second thing like does is to warm. We are supposed to live and love with a particular Christ-like warmth, to make others’ hearts burn. Christian love is itself a form of light that opens people up to the exodus from darkness and fuller immersion into Christ’s light as children of the light. In an anti-intellectual age, this warmth is so key.
    • Jesus tells us that we’re not supposed to hide our light under a bushel basket but to set it on a stand to give light to the entire house. Similarly, we’re supposed to be humbly proud of Christ’s teaching and absolutely committed faithfully to passing on the Gospel not just in the light of words but in the warmth of loving service. Our Amen always involves this luminescence, just like it involves our salt.
  • A saint who faithfully lived this double-vocation to be salt and light is the one we celebrate today, St. Anthony. By his famous preaching and his renowned charity, particularly for the poor, he not only preserved his own faith but that of his contemporaries. He ignited a 13th century fire wherever he went. He brought joy to the living of the Gospel as he attracted so many to Christ through his affability and holiness. He taught as a great doctor of the Church, preaching hour-long sermons. And he warmed by his miracles of compassion, raising from the dead, giving food to the hungry, healing the sick. Even if for a time of nine months early in his Franciscan life he humbly washed pots and pans and didn’t let people know the treasure he bore within his mind and heart, when God took the bushel basket off at an ordination of Franciscans and Dominicans, for the last nine years of his life he remained on that lamp stand preventing so many people’s faith from going insipid. Today he is praying for us, that we might be as faithful to our two-fold vocation and mission as he was.
  • The great source of his strength, his fidelity, his saltiness and his light was the Amen he would give in faith each day to the Eucharist. He preached about the Eucharist with great passion and brought many to deeper trust. One of his most famous and well-attested miracles happened in response to the Eucharist. When he was preaching in Bourges, France, a Jew named Guillard, a very intelligent, rich and highly skeptical man of the Church’s teaching on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, challenged Anthony to prove it. To believe in something miraculous, he needed something more than the word of a Jewish carpenter 1200 years before. He needed a miracle to believe in the miracle. So he proposed a challenge to Anthony: He said, “Brother Anthony, if by some tangible, outward sign you can confirm the truth you have demonstrated by reasoning, I will embrace what you teach. He was only half sincere. He said, “I have a mule. I will keep him for three days under lock and key and in all that time will feed him nothing. At the end of the third day I will bring him to the largest public square in the city; and there, in the presence of all the assembled people, I will offer him a feed of oats. You on the other hand, will come carrying the Host, which, as you believe, is the true body of the Son of God. If the mule refuses the food in order to prostrate itself before the monstrance, I will become a Catholic and no longer question the truth of the doctrine taught by the Catholic Church.” Anthony took the challenge and fasted and prayed for three days as the mule was starved. A huge crowd was present on the third day. Guillard showed up with all his friends confident of victory. The mule was brought forward as St. Anthony was approaching with the Eucharist. The food was placed before the mule, as Anthony commanded, “In the name of your Creator, whose body I, though unworthy, hold in my hands before you, I enjoin you, O creature deprived of reason, to come here instantly and prostrate yourself before your God, so that by this sign unbelievers may know that all creation is subject to the Lamb who is daily immolated upon our altars.” Without taking any further notice of the food, the mule walked to the feet of Anthony, and, as attested by many witnesses, knelt before the Blessed Sacrament and remained there in an attitude of adoration.” Guillard and many others, vanquished according to their humanity, were reawakened spiritually and sought admission to the faith. Guillard came and got to his knees besides the mule. He eventually paid for a Church to be built at the site of the miracle. The application to us is that if mules will kneel in adoration of the Lord and account him more valuable than food even when they’re starving, so should we reverence Jesus in the Eucharist and come to receive and adore him every day if we can. Jesus himself said, “Work not for the food that perishes, but the food that endures to eternal life that the Son of Man will give you.” That’s the food for which St. Anthony labored and for which he is praying we will labor. It’s here that we receive the grace to keep our faith integral as salt, and it’s here that we ingest the Light of the World so that the light we give comes from the inside, in this mutual abiding in God. Through the intercession of St. Anthony, as we prepare to say Amen to receiving the Lord in Holy Communion, we ask for the grace to have our whole life be a continuous reverberation of that total response!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 2 COR 1:18-22

Brothers and sisters:
As God is faithful, our word to you is not “yes” and “no.”
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us,
Silvanus and Timothy and me,
was not “yes” and “no,” but “yes” has been in him.
For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him;
therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.
But the one who gives us security with you in Christ
and who anointed us is God;
he has also put his seal upon us
and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.

Responsorial Psalm PS 119:129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 135

R. (135a) Lord, let your face shine on me.
Wonderful are your decrees;
therefore I observe them.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
The revelation of your words sheds light,
gives understanding to the simple.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
I gasp with open mouth
in my yearning for your commands.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
Turn to me in pity
as you turn to those who love your name.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
Steady my footsteps according to your promise,
and let no iniquity rule over me.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
Let your countenance shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.

Alleluia MT 5:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Let your light shine before others
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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.”