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.
Refrain: The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.
1) 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. (Refrain:)
2) 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. (Refrain:)
3) 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. (Refrain:)
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.
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.”
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL. This resource is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)
In today’s gospel passage, our Lord tells his disciples that “your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father”.
As those of you who attend daily Mass can well attest, light is one of my favorite themes. In high school physics classes, I remember studying some of the enigmatic characteristics of light including the ability to go around corners. Of course, I’ve long since forgotten many others but I do remember that one!! Then back when I was a novice in the Jesuit seminary of St. Andrew-on-Hudson in Poughkeepsie, NY (what is now the grounds of the Culinary Institute of America), I remember spending many of my daily hour-long meditations each morning on one specific verse of John’s gospel in the original Greek (I could never do that now!). Our Lord has received word that John the Baptist has been executed by Herod and proclaims to his disciples that John “was a light, consuming and revealing, but you wished to rejoice exceedingly for a while in his presence” (5:35). To this day, and especially through my ministry as a deacon, I want to do all in my power to be the same light in the darkness of the lives of others.
The image of light is important to all of us as human beings. Whenever someone dies, friends and relatives may say that “their light has gone out from their lives”. We see this on the news whenever vigils are held for those who are deceased, especially in the lighting of candles for them. Beginning in 2001, I have led what is called a “longest night” service at the mausoleum in St. Mary of the Lake’s cemetery in Lakewood on December 21st. Part of that service includes having the participants come forward and light candles for their loved ones.
- As you know, this past week included the annual celebration of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA. Of course, my wife and I had to watch the movie starring Bill Murray. Our DVD also includes an audio commentary by the director, Harold Ramis, who passed away in 2014. So, of course, we had to watch it again and listen to the commentary which always includes some little-known interesting facts about it (like the fact that most of it was filmed in Woodstock, IL, not in Punxsutawney). He points out that Murray’s progression through the movie parallels the five stages of grief first introduced by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her ground-breaking book On Death and Dying. Those stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. (You might find it interesting to watch the movie once again with that in mind.) Since I’m sure most of you are familiar with it, I won’t explain the plot in detail. But we should note how once Murray’s character in the movie (his name is Phil Connors) realizes that he is reliving the same day over and over again with apparently no consequences of his actions, he uses that information to his own selfish advantage. But eventually he decides to use this unique situation to learn more about the personal life of his producer, Rita, and try to win her heart. Finally, he realizes that the best way to win her heart is to help as many people as possible. Only then does he finally break out of his daily repetitions.
If you attended this Mass last week, you know that our children’s choir sang what I think is one of their favorite songs “Go, Make a Difference”. If they were singing this week, the lyrics of the first verse of the song would have been most appropriate for this week’s gospel:
- We are the salt of the earth, called to let the people see
the love of God in you and me.
We are the light of the world, not to be hidden but be seen.
Go, make a difference in the world.
Just like Phil Connor’s progression from selfishness to generosity, we are called to do the same in our lives. Taken one step further than in the movie, once we have passed from this mortal coil we will be remembered only by those in whom we have invested our love and our time.
So, our Lord calls each of us to go, make a difference in the lives of others and bring a light into the darkness of their lives. Then, and only then, will our Lord be able to say to each of us someday that we also were “a light, consuming and revealing, but you wished to rejoice exceedingly for a while in their presence”.
(Copyright 2017 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com.)
In this classic text, which I’m sure you know almost as well as you know the Beatitudes that preceded it, our Lord talks about salt and light.
With respect to salt, we should know that it has some very unique qualities. First of all, it was associated with purity because it came from the purest of things: sun and water. Secondly, it was used as a food preservative and kept food from spoiling. (1)
- Back when I was working in Newark, I would often have lunch in what is called the Ironbound section of the city which is heavily populated by Portuguese. Whenever I would pass by an outdoor market, I would see boxes of bacalao, which is a salted, unrefrigerated cod fish, out on the shelves with the fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, I would treat myself to a bacalao stew, which includes boiled potatoes, onions and eggs. But it is the encasement in salt which preserves the fish and permits it to be stored without refrigeration.
This was especially important in the times before refrigeration was even a possibility. And thirdly, salt enhances the flavor of food (1). Substitutes have been tried - like MSG or monosodium glutamate, which has its own complications - but none work like salt. However, I would dare to say that in our country it is used to a fault, especially in prepared foods. In fact, it is one of the major contributors to heart attacks in that it can raise blood pressure to a dangerous level.
But in this passage, our Lord is using salt to characterize our lives as Christians. Of course, in everyday parlance, being “salty” has an entirely different meaning.
- I was watching The View a few years ago (I know I’m a guy watching a show with a group of women, but, hey, what can I say!). Anyway, they had Rosie O’Donnell on the show as a guest. Of course, she used to be one of the cohosts and, to say the least, is quite opinionated. She used to have regular arguments on the show with Elisabeth Hasselbeck, primarily about politics, and they finally let Rosie go. Anyway, I was watching her and it suddenly dawned on me: here’s a woman who has certainly lost none of her salt!! In other words, no one could ever accuse her of being dull and boring!!
And then there is light.
- In 2014, the sad funeral of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died of a heroin overdose, was held at St. Ignatius Loyola church in New York. One writer noted the following: “For all that was luminous about Philip Seymour Hoffman—his generosity and kindness, his immense talent—he, like all of us, struggled against darkness. His was in the form of an opiate addiction that he would not conquer. But also in his art, he revealed the “luminous darkness” of the human condition. He could take the most pitiful souls and imbue each of them with a wrenching humanity. The more pathetic or deluded the character, the greater Hoffman’s relish seemed in rescuing them from the realms of the merely monstrous.” (2)
Since his death, I wonder how many of his friends have said to themselves “I wish I had done more to help him”. But then again, there is only so much that anyone can do when it comes to addiction.
It seems that there’s a lot of darkness in the world around us these days. Consider the following story. The author writes:
- I've lived in New York City for all of my seventeen years and can't imagine living anywhere else. It's an amazing city full of sights and smells and sounds unlike anywhere else on Earth. Its being a city with a population of more than 8 million adds to its excitement, as well as to the mistaken belief that it's filled with cold, aloof and uncaring people. Taken as a total number, it's hard to imagine connecting with all its citizens, but when you deal with one person at a time something different happens.
It was a cold November day, and New York City was still reeling from the devastation of September 11. All the members of my soccer team were glad to have an excuse to get out of school. It was the first game of the year, and we had suffered a horrible defeat; still, we were just excited to be starting the new season. We were twenty high-school girls walking and laughing through the streets of the Bronx, ignoring the occasional whistles from the men we passed. We got to the subway station just as our train was coming in. Piling onto the D train, we glanced around the car, finding it full of blank stares and vacuous expressions. As the train started moving, twenty boisterous voices erupted at once, discussing everything from the attitudes of the girls on the opposing team to our plans for later that night.
All of us lived in Manhattan. Even though Manhattan and the Bronx are both boroughs of New York City, they're pretty far apart, so we had at least an hour-long train ride ahead of us. To amuse ourselves and pass the time, we began to sing. Various genres of music filled the train's car, from Bob Dylan to Christina Aguilera. Even though only one of us could really sing, we all sang along as loudly as possible; what we lacked in musical talent we made up for in volume and enthusiasm. I wish I could freeze that moment: being with my friends, feeling happy and not thinking about anything else. It was an amazing feeling that got even better as the train moved on.
Our fellow riders had different feelings. A few smiled in our direction, but most shot us disgruntled looks (was it our obvious lack of musical talent?), and some were downright hostile.
All our voices stopped almost simultaneously as an old man entered the car from the subway platform. His clothes were tattered, and his face was covered with a stubbly beard. In his hand he held a Styrofoam coffee cup emblazoned with "I Love NY". Despite his shabby appearance, he carried himself with dignity. He spoke softly, but his voice projected through the car: "Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I hope everyone is staying warm and healthy this winter. I am going to sing a couple of my favorite old songs for you during your trip. Please listen, and I hope you enjoy.”
No one on the train looked up. Most people slid down behind their newspapers or feigned sleep, but we girls watched him carefully. As he began to sing "Joy to the World", we were so carried away by his eloquent voice and presence that we found ourselves chiming right in. After we had finished, we heard clapping and looked around to see that the people who had been in their own worlds a few moments before had now crossed over to ours to listen and marvel at this rare moment. His exquisite voice leading ours made it all sound so beautiful. The singing continued for a few more songs, then the old man sang a song he introduced as his own. When he was finished, he was lauded just as before when we had sung along with him.
For his final song, he chose something that was sure to move everyone: "God Bless America". With this song, not only did the twenty of us join him, but so did everyone else in the car. The stirring strains of "God Bless America" rang through the subway train and out into the station where we stopped. Many people left their own cars to come and see what was happening in ours—and to join us. This impromptu chorus on the D train, this medley of voices and unity of spirit, was real and marvelous. Its significance became clearest to me when I noticed a woman holding a baby in her arms, singing through the tears that were streaming down her cheeks.
The power of this moment will be with me forever. A moment when a group of strangers, all New Yorkers, tough and jaded, connected with a group of high-school girls and a ragtag homeless person, and allowed their voices—and their hearts—to be as one. (3)
In a few minutes, our children’s choir will be singing what I think is one of their favorite songs “Go, Make a Difference”. The lyrics of the first verse are:
- We are the salt of the earth, called to let the people see
the love of God in you and me.
We are the light of the world, not to be hidden but be seen.
Go, make a difference in the world. (4)
I think the homeless man in the story made a difference, at least in the lives of the author and the woman holding the baby. And I think our Lord is calling each of us to do the same, each in our own way.
- From the Gospel of Matthew, copyright 1975 by William Barclay, St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Used with permission.
- See more at http://www.ekklesiaproject.org/blog/2014/02/luminous-darkness/#sthash.qcz6lTGM.dpuf
- Going Home on the D Train by Simone McLaughlin from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories for a Better World. Copyright 2005 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Candic C. Carter, Susanna Palomares, Linda K. Williams and Bradley L. Winch. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL.
- Go, Make a Difference Copyright 1997 by Steve Angrisano and Tom Tomaszek at spiritandsong.com. You can hear it here with the lyrics.
(Copyright 2014 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In order to better understand what our Lord was getting at in today's gospel passage when he tells his disciples that they are the "salt of the earth", we have to have a better understanding of the importance of salt in Jewish/Roman society of 2000 years ago. First of all, we can easily see this from the fact that the English word "salary" comes from the Latin root sale or salt. And I think it is safe to say that there is nothing more important in anyone's life than earning a living wage. In Roman times, soldiers were either paid in salt or it was understood that they would use their "salaries" to purchase it. This has come down to us through the expression "he is not worth his salt", which means that a person is not worth his salary or wage. Finally, the Romans had a saying in Latin "Nil utilius sole et sale" which means that there is "nothing more useful than sun and salt" (1). So from all of this we can see that salt was as important for measuring value in those days as gold is today.
Salt also has some very unique qualities. First of all, salt was associated with purity because it came from the purest of things: sun and water. Secondly, it was used as a food preservative and kept food from going bad. Even today bacalao - or salted, unrefrigerated cod fish - is a basic staple in Hispanic and Portuguese cultures. And it is the encasement in salt which preserves the fish and permits it to be stored without refrigeration. This was especially important in the times before refrigeration was even a possibility. And thirdly, salt enhances the flavor of food (1). It is certainly for this reason alone that many people risk heart complications. Substitutes have been tried - like MSG or monosodium glutamate, which has its own complications - but none work like salt.
The implications of these qualities for the follower of Christ should be obvious. First of all, the Christian should be pure, that is, as free as possible from the contamination of sin. Secondly, the Christian must be the preservative of what is good in society; that is, they must be the ones who maintain the moral standards of society. Even if everything around them seems to be crumbling and everyone is succumbing to temptations, the Christian must keep their head above it all. And lastly, the Christian must be able to lend flavor to life. Unfortunately, many times I think we are viewed as doing just the opposite. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers."(1) So often, I fear, many of us have lost the radiance and joy of the Christian life. And this is the joy which comes from the knowledge and belief in the fact that Christ has died for us and has risen from the dead so that we might have eternal life. It is the joy which comes from knowing that no matter what befalls us here and now, there is an eternity of unending joy which awaits us in the hereafter.
All too many years ago when I was 19 and in my second year of novitiate in the Jesuit seminary, a few of us put on a skit to entertain the parents when they came to visit us. It was basically some of the characters from the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. For some reason, I was chosen to recite "Johnathan Houghton" who, I believe, is one of the more obscure of all of the characters. It is a poem I can still recall to this day because I felt that it was such an accurate approximation of where I was at that point of my life.
- There's the caw of a crow and the hesitant song of a thrush.
There's the tinkle of a cow bell far away, and the voice of a plowman on Shipley's Hill.
The forest beyond the orchard is still with midsummer's stillness.
And along the road a wagon chuckles, loaded with corn, headed to Atterbury.
And an old man sits under a tree asleep.
And an old woman crosses the road,
Coming from the orchard with a bucket full of blackberries.
And a boy lies in the grass near the feet of the old man
And looks up at the sailing clouds, and longs, and longs, and longs.
For what? He knows not: for manhood, for life, for the unknown world!
Then thirty years passed and the boy returned, worn out by life
And found the orchard vanished,
And the forest gone,
And the house made over,
And the roadway filled with dust from automobiles -
And himself desiring the hill.
It is important to realize that "the hill" represented the graveyard. If we are to truly become the "salt of the earth", then we can't let life get the best of us and start "desiring the hill". Although eternal joy does await us, we can't walk around feeling like this life is just so much bother. Rather, BECAUSE eternal joy awaits us, we should embrace this life and seek to make the best of it. With joy and with radiance. And we cannot allow anything to take that joy from us. Consider the following story.
- Emily Lyons was a nurse who was severely maimed on January 29, 1998 when a bomb loaded with nails exploded outside of the abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama where she worked as a nurse. Although the bomb killed a guard who happened to be inspecting the mysterious package when it exploded, she survived. However, the nails did a great deal of damage and recovery has been slow. ``My left leg was broken pretty good,'' she told Reuters news services. ''Both of my knees were full of metal. I lost arteries in my legs. I lost one eye, and it damaged my other eye. It tore my eyelids off. My tear ducts had to be reconstructed. It broke my teeth. I had a hole in my abdomen. My intestines came out,'' she said, methodically listing the injuries. "They had to remove several inches of my small intestine and part of my large intestine. There were nails in my chest. My eardrum ruptured.'' She has undergone 13 surgeries and more are planned. Full recovery is still a good 6 to 12 months away.
How has all of this affected her life? She said her husband must help her with basic tasks. "I'll never be back to where I was,'' she said. "I can wash and iron clothes and unload the dishwasher, but I can't do most of the things I used to do. Jeff's starting to learn to put makeup on me because I can't see to do it. My eyebrows are gone, so he shades them in. I can't lift. I can't open things. I have difficulty hearing, and it's hard to write.'' I mention all of this not to gross you out but so that you can better understand what she is going through in this healing process. Eric Rudolph, the alleged bomber, is also believed to be responsible for the bombing in 1996 at Olympic Park in Atlanta and has eluded the FBI ever since.
When asked about being angry at him, Emily said: "It takes too much energy to be angry at this point because I need all that energy to do other stuff." When asked about his feelings, her husband Jeff said that he was not angry at the bomber. "You can't be angry and move ahead as fast as you want to at the same time and I choose to spend my time trying to take care of Emily instead of hating someone. There's also an old Indian saying, you become what you hate. And if I'm filled with the same kind of hate that this person was...then how am I really different from this person?" (2)
Jeff and Emily went on to discuss how the bombing had changed them for the better, how she has become a different person than she used to be and how their love for each other has deepened because of this ordeal. I believe that Emily's story exemplifies what we have just discussed. First of all, she and her husband have refused to succumb to the temptations - and sins - of anger, bitterness and hatred. Secondly, they are seeking to preserve what is good in their lives, and the love which has grown between them. And lastly, they have maintained a joy of living which one man's act of hatred cannot take from them. And all of these things are possible only through faith, a faith which is rooted in the resurrection.
Like Jeff and Emily, we are called by our Lord to be as free from sin as possible, to be the preservative of what is good in society and to be living examples of the joy of the resurrection in our lives. As we rapidly approach the season of Lent, we need to examine our lives and see if we can truly be called the "salt of the earth". Or are we fit only to be thrown out and trodden underfoot? Are we like the lad in our poem who is only "desiring the hill"? If we are the salt of the earth, then all of the vicissitudes and misfortunes of life will not take away our inner joy. And having lived a life of joy, we will then one day reach our own "eternal joy", a joy that nothing and no one will be able to take from us.
1. From the Gospel of Matthew, copyright 1975 by William Barclay, St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Reprinted with permission.
2. Adapted from ABC News and Reuters News Service reports.
(Copyright 2011 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com.)
Lord Jesus, you call us to be the salt of the earth. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you call us to be the light of the world. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you call us to share our bread with the hungry and to comfort those who suffer. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: The prophet Isaiah has called us to care for those in need. Confident that God will listen to us, we bring those needs to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Christ, be our light".
That the leaders of the Church will give us a living example of how to be a light in the lives of others, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will do all in their power to eliminate hunger, oppression and homelessness, we pray to the Lord.
That the sick, the elderly, the lonely and those who are grieving the loss of a loved one may come to see the light of God through our caring concern, we pray to the Lord.
That the Holy Spirit will strengthen all of those who live the consecrated life in their efforts to be salt and light for the world, we pray to the Lord.
That Christians everywhere will be the light of Christ in the lives of their families and in their communities, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Gracious Father, your Son has called us to be the salt of the earth and a light to the world. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to be the salt in a flavorless world and a reflection of your light to all nations. And we ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.