In the past week we witnessed a historic event. Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech at the March for Life. He is the highest ranking official to directly address the annual rally. During his speech, VP Pence said, “I believe a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable. The aged. The infirm. The disabled. And the unborn.”
For many years we have been standing up to the prevalent ‘culture of death’ in our society. VP Pence announced to the huge crowds at the rally that, “Life is winning in America because of all of you.” He then gave the following advice,
So I urge you to press on. But as it is written, ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all.’ Let this movement be known for love, not anger. Let this movement be known for compassion, not confrontation. When it comes to matters of the heart, there is nothing stronger than gentleness.
In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus addresses the tone and goals that should accompany the proclamation of the gospel. Jesus admonishes his followers using the metaphors of salt and light.
Earlier in Matthew Jesus admonished us to seek happiness through a deepening relationship with God. With this foundation in mind, the next step is to witness to the world around us. “You are the salt of the earth.” Jesus tells his followers, “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” (Matthew 5:13). The word ‘you’ in the original language is emphatic and points back to Jesus’ earlier teaching about happiness. With emphasis this means, “It is you who are the salt of the earth.” This calling is universal, but how do we bring Christ into the midst of our daily life?
Salt has several characteristics which are highlighted in Jesus metaphor. Salt seasons, preserves even purifies.
Anyone who has engaged in the art of cooking knows that the right amount of salt is necessary for food to taste good. Too little salt makes food bland while too much salt can make it unpleasant and even unhealthy. Those who meet us in our daily life should be able to taste the salt of Christ, but like our food this taste needs to be balanced and not overwhelming. Lay people living the midst of the world should learn to share their faith in a natural way and not to appear annoying or odd.
Picking up on this quality in the ancient world one could speak of salty, or purified speech which was witty or filled with wisdom. As St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one” (Colossians 4:6).
Salt also preserves food as well. By remaining filled with Christ, we persevere in him. The final idea of being purified is the least obvious usage to the modern mind. In the Old Testament salt was used to ritually purify things (cf. 2 Kings 2:21–22; and Ezekiel 16:4). Salt was also used in ritual sacrifice as a symbol of purity.
As a symbol of purity salt was used as a sacramental in the ancient Church. Catechumens were given blessed salt when they were enrolled in the catechumenate. In the old Baptismal rite, a few grains of blessed salt were placed in the month of the infant during the Baptism ritual with the words, “Receive the salt of wisdom, . . .”
Prior to the baptism, prayers of exorcism were prayed over the salt so that it would become “a healthful agent for putting the enemy to flight.” This salt was also used with further prayers to make holy water. Together with prayer, holy water can be used to bless people and objects and to protect against the power of the Evil One (CCC 1672-1673).
In a second parallel metaphor Jesus declares to his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Jesus is echoing a series of poems from Isaiah which talk about Israel as the servant of Yahweh who will become a light to the nations. Our Old Testament reading was from this sequence. Isaiah notes, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, . . . your light shall rise in the darkness” (Isaiah 58:8, 10).
What begins as a reference to Israel collectively, becomes personified in the person of Jesus the Suffering Servant who testifies in John’s Gospel, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
What does it mean to shine with the Light of Christ? Jesus reminds us that we cannot hide this light but must let it shine. Our “light must shine before others” that they may see our good deeds and glorify our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).
At times the world can seem very dark. We might be tempted, in our increasingly secular world, to pull back and isolate ourselves from worldly matters. Wouldn’t it be better to be safe and not risk being tainted by the darkness of the world? Perhaps it is a time to withdraw and pray?
Yet like the metaphor of salt, we must enter the world and become part of it in order that we might affect it by our presence. Without the presence of our salt or light the world and those we meet will remain in darkness.
Using the image of light, it would be completely unnatural to hide our light “under a bushel basket,” or to quietly go about our life without revealing Christ through it. In fact, we are called to be like a “city on a hill.” This type of city cannot go quietly unnoticed in some rustic country vale; it calls attention to itself.
Imagine the impact if each of us, in a natural way, began to reveal the light of Christ to those around us in every honest and upright profession, and in all aspects of our daily life. Together we can push back the darkness. Let your light shine before others and do not let your salt become tasteless.
Scott McKellar is associate director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute.