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2/5/23 Homily: Salt and Light

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]

I have a confession to make. I am one of those people who tends to add salt to his steak. I may take a courtesy bite when a steak is right in front of me; but even before tasting, I already know I’ll add more salt to it.

Salt is meant to enhance the flavor of something else. It isn’t typically consumed for its own sake. That’s salt’s humble purpose: to bring out another’s best flavor. But when misapplied, it can destroy or overpower other flavors.

So also the Christian. The Christian isn’t meant for himself—or herself. They can’t be their own end. Christians are in the world with others for others. And they’re meant to be gentle in their care for others.

Just as salt isn’t meant to overpower or destroy other flavors, Christians don’t force their creed upon others. Their purpose is also very humble. As salt with food, Christians bring out the best in others, and help bring to perfection the good that is already there. Their presence is known by the flavor of whom they have touched. They are the salt of the earth.

Christians follow the example of their Lord. Our God isn’t in competition with anything in creation. God is not a creature among other creatures. God’s in a category all his own. God is. God’s nature is existence and love. The more we’re in right relationship with God, the better we appreciate things and others as they truly are, and we love them properly.

Our Sunday also isn’t meant to simply be one day among others, or a day in competition with others. As salt is with food, our Sunday brings out the best in all other days. Our weeks can seem so bland when our Sundays are not properly integrated into our week, as a noble day of its own, a day where our faith is recharged in a particular way.

Faith enhances the quality of human life. Faith isn’t meant to be a substitute for what is natural and good. It brings out life’s best flavor. Ordinary events in life can become quite joyful; and even suffering becomes palatable—delicious even—when the soul becomes refined in its tastes by faith.

Jesus also gives us another image to ponder in speaking to us about the Christian vocation. He likens it to light. Like salt, light discovers its true value in relation to something else. Light is known by the beauty it reveals.

Think of stained glass images, for example. Those images would be cold and lifeless, and the mysteries within them left uncontemplated, in the absence of light. It’s light that gives them beauty, meaning, and order. The same is true with anything that is visibly beautiful. Without light to reveal their presence, we would be in the midst of beauty, but blind to it.

Like salt, light must also be applied with prudence. It’s capable of dispersing darkness gently; but it can also be blinding when intense, or when seen by eyes that are unaccustomed to light. Likewise, our own Christian vocation must be lived with prudence. We can proclaim our faith gently, or we can be harsh and blinding.

Like light, our Christian vocation must be known by the beauty that we reveal. And we do reveal the beauty of the culture of life, of marriage, and the family, through the light of our Christian vocation.

There’s an ancient letter, which dates to around the year 130 AD, not very long after the death of Saint Peter. It’s written to someone named Diognetus, describing Christians to someone who was curious or critical of them. I won’t read the whole letter, but just a part.

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They don’t inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching isn’t based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men…

“Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign…

“And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of immigrants. Any country can be their homeland; but for them, their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives…

“They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law…

“Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred…”

That’s from a letter from the 2nd century. We are on our way to the 22nd century. In nearly two thousand years, some things never change. “You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world…”

Jésus enseigne le peuple près de la mer, by James Tissot. c. 1886 - 1894. Brooklyn Museum. [Public Domain]


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