09 February 2014

Bad salt and weak light?

In one of his more straightforward and - perhaps for this very reason - memorable statements, His Holiness Benedict XVI declared with great force:
We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt 5:13-16).
He made the bold and challenging statement in his Apostolic Letter by which he announced the recently concluded Year of Faith (Porta Fidei, 3).

Of course, the passage of the Gospel to which he alludes is the one proclaimed today by Holy Mother Church.

We know the words of Jesus very well, but how greatly have we truly pondered their meaning and implications?  Too often we focus on what Jesus says about us, that we are salt and light, without giving much care to what he says about salt and light, namely that it is sometimes rightly thrown out and that it must always shine.

With that one strong sentence, Pope Benedict XVI flipped our focus on these verses and has thereby turned them into an excellent beginning of a thorough examination of conscience, in place of our usual attempt to pat ourselves on the back.

No one - so far as I am aware - eats salt by itself; rather, salt is always added to other foods to heighten or to improve the flavor.  Some salt enhances flavors and, hence life; too much salt, though, destroys life (just ask the ancient Carthaginians what happened when the Romans worked salt into the land upon which the city once stood).

The Lord Jesus is quite direct when he says, "Salt is good; but if it has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill; men throw it away.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Luke 14:34-35).  His warning is clear: Yes, we are the salt of the earth, but should we lose our saltiness we, too, will good for nothing and thrown out.  If we wish to enter into Paradise, we must maintain our saltiness.

Reflecting on this warning, Saint Bonaventure explains how salt can lose its taste: "...when the disciple of Christ becomes irreligious in contemplation and indifferent in deeds and in preaching" (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 14.67).  Such indifference is a constant temptation for each of us and we do well to guard against it!

But what of the light?  Saint Anthony of Padua reminds us that "the sun is called the source of heat and light, in which we see life and doctrine, which should flow from them, like two streams from a fountain, to other people.  Their lives should be warm, their teaching clear" (Sermon on the Annunciation to Holy Mary, 7).

Take these words of Pope Benedict XVI to prayer today and ask yourself honestly: Have I lost my taste?  Has my light dimmed?  Are others led closer to Jesus by my presence?  Do I seek to shine light on myself, or on the Lord?  If we do not wish to be trampled under foot, these are necessary questions.

If we find that our flavor and light has weakened, the Lord has given us the means to have them restored.  Though they may seem simple and ordinary, they are truly powerful.  They are the sacraments of Confession and of the Eucharist.  Go, and be refreshed!

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