The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the most basic spiritual principles is that the Christian life looks like something.  The Christian looks like something.  Perhaps we ought to change that to “looks like someone,” that someone of course being Jesus Christ.

In the Liturgy of the Hours, which clergy and others pray each day, today there is a reading from a section of Gaudium et spes, the Pastoral Constituition on the Church in the Modern World from Vatican II.  The line that jumped out at me was this one: “Man’s worth is greater because of what he is than because of what he has.”  So the Christian doesn’t look like her or his possessions; doesn’t look like what he does, but rather what he is.  And what she or he is is what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel reading.

Jesus gives us the images of salt and light, and I think those are very familiar images for us to grasp.  We all use salt and light every day, and it is interesting to hear Jesus say that that is what we are.  Anyone who cooks, or even anyone who eats, will tell you of the value of salt.  I like to watch the television show Chopped on the Food Network.  On that show, four chefs compete to make something edible of a basket of disparate and perhaps even bizarre ingredients.  Then three judges sample their dishes and decide who is not moving on to the next round; they are “chopped.”  At the end, one of them wins a bunch of money.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen on that show get “chopped” because they under-seasoned their food.  A pinch of salt might be what got between them and ten thousand dollars!

So the Christian is salt for the world; we are called to season the world with joy and goodness and concern for the poor and genuine love, based on the Gospel.  But Jesus wonders what would happen if that salt were to lose its flavor.  Now I can’t imagine salt losing its saltiness.  In fact, I googled this one time and found a chemist who took this question on.  He indicated that salt, in its crystalline form, is pretty stable; it doesn’t lose its flavor.  So Jesus was using, as he often does, hyperbole to get our attention.  Suppose for the moment that salt could lose its saltiness: what would it then be good for?  Well, nothing, of course.

But Jesus seems to be saying that we, as the salt for the world, could lose our saltiness.  For example, we could become under-seasoned by skipping Mass to attend a sports event or sleep in.  We could become under-seasoned by neglecting our prayer life.  We could become under-seasoned by watching the wrong things on TV or surfing the wrong sites on the internet.  We could become under-seasoned by holding on to relationships that are sinful.  And when that starts to happen, our ability to season our world with the presence of Christ is diminished, little by little.  Our salt loses its saltiness.

And then we have the image of light.  When I preach this text for children, I often ask them how many of them are or ever had been afraid of the dark.  Lots of hands go up, as you can well imagine.  I think that’s probably true of all of us on some level; the darkness is a scary place.  There are all sorts of obstacles in the dark that could cause us to trip and fall, and you never know what might befall you on a dark and scary road.  All of us have had those experiences when we are in the dark, and it’s not a fun place to be.

So what do you do when you find yourself in the dark?  Well, you turn on the light, of course. The light changes everything: you can see the obstacles over which you might have fallen.  Anything lurking in the dark will now be identified in the light.  Sometimes a quick look around with the lights on will assure you that that noise you heard was just the house settling, or the furnace firing up, or something similarly innocuous.  The light just makes you feel a little safer.

And so we are called to be light too.  We don’t need much time to think about how dark our world can be at times.  We see on television the news about war and crime and terrorism and new diseases and things we shouldn’t be eating.  We hear about children bullying one another and people stalking others on the internet.  A quick moment of reflection reminds us of our own sinfulness; the bad that we have done and the good we have failed to do.  Darkness in our world can be pretty pervasive at times, and it makes the world a rather frightening place.

But we have the light.  We’ve been exposed to the light.  We have come alive in Jesus, the Light of the world – that’s what we celebrated last weekend during our feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  As those gifted with the Light of the world, we become people of light.  We become light for the world too.  Jesus insists that our light should shine so brightly that we affect the darkness of our world, completely overcoming that darkness with the Light of Christ.  He insists that we are now that city, set on a hill, that cannot be hidden.  

St. Therese of Liseaux used to talk about doing little things with great love for the glory of God.  She found joy in her “Little Way” and it has inspired so many people ever since.  Our Liturgy today calls us to do little things and big things, all for God’s glory.  It calls us to be salt for a world grown bland with despair and light for a world dwelling in a very dark place.  In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us how to do it:

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…

If neglecting our prayer life and our integrity causes us to lose our saltiness, if giving in to shame and despair puts out our light, then we can never do what we were created for.  But we have been given salt and light to season and light our world.  We are the city set on the hill for all the watching world to see.  Would that they might see us doing little things and big things, all for the glory of God.

School Graduation: Salt and Light

Tonight’s readings: Acts 26:9-18 | 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 | Matthew 5:13-16

Tonight as we come together to celebrate the Eucharist as a class for the last time, I would imagine you are experiencing a great many emotions. You may be feeling happy, even relieved, as you come to this milestone. Many of you have been at Saint Mary Immaculate School for as many as ten years, and so this accomplishment has been a long time coming. You might also be feeling sad that you’re leaving behind some friends as they go to other high schools, or even uneasy because you’ll be heading into unknown territory. I’m sure you’re also feeling proud of the success you’ve had here at Saint Mary Immaculate, particularly proud of the success that has led you to graduation this evening, as well you should be.

Success is the thing that everyone wants for you. Your parents want you to be successful, your teachers want you to be successful. Even God wants you to be successful; especially God. But all those people may have different ideas of what success looks like. Some might see success as getting into a prestigious college. Others measure it by how much money you’ll eventually make. Maybe you will want to be the famous athlete, or the President of the United States. You might find success in inventing some new technology, or finding a cure for a disease. Success looks like a lot of different things.

Many people have written on what success is. Dale Carnegie wrote, “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.” Woody Allen once said, “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.” General Colin Powell wrote, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” I could go on and on quoting all sorts of famous people who have given their opinion on how to be successful, but I thought I might stop there and instead focus on what success looks like for disciples of the Lord.  Because that’s what brings us to church today to celebrate your Graduation.

Take a look at the Cross. That, friends, is what success looks like for us believers in Christ. It looks like love beyond our wildest dreams. It looks like giving everything, trusting all the while that God will give us what we need in return. That’s how Jesus loves us, and that’s how we’re supposed to love one another too. He laid down his life for us, and we are called to do the same for others. We are probably not going to get nailed to a cross, but we are definitely called upon to give of ourselves, to lay down our lives for each other.  For us, that will be a sacrifice, it may hurt a bit, but we are a people who are called to love sacrificially, just as Jesus has done for us.

And so for the believer, success might look like becoming a missionary to bring God’s love to people in faraway lands. Or it might look like finding the cure for a disease without harming the unborn. Believers in Christ could become politicians too; helping to make the world a better place by standing up for what is right. Successful believers could become priests or religious sisters or brothers. They might well be parents who raise their children to respect others and have a strong relationship with God. They could be owners of businesses that practice their trade with integrity and a concern for those in need.  Success for the Christian disciple always involves love; it always requires us to go beyond ourselves and reach out in love to others.

One thing is certain: successful believers will always have to sacrifice. Selfishness does not have a place in the life of a disciple and it will never even lead to real happiness anyway. A successful disciple might have to pass on a business deal because it looks shady, and trust God to give them something way better. Or she might give up a couple of years of her career in order to devote some time to working with the poor. A successful parent might have to put some of his or her plans on hold in order to raise a family. But successful disciples aren’t doormats either; they merely give of themselves and trust in God to give them real happiness.

And God does want you to be happy. In fact if you’re ever finding yourself unhappy in life – and most of us will be there at some point or another – stop and see if maybe you’re not doing what God wants you to do. Because, in my life, I will absolutely witness that the happiest times have been the times when I’ve stopped doing my own thing and listened to God. God is love, God is mercy, God is truth and beauty and grace, and he never wants anything for his children but the very best – just like any good parent.

Our Gospel tonight makes this all very clear.  We disciples are called to be salt for the earth and light for the world.  Every good cook will tell you that salt is absolutely necessary in any good recipe, even a sweet dessert.  Without salt, most things don’t taste the way they should.  So we disciples are meant to go out and season the world with the love of Christ.  And we have been created to take the light of Christ to our world that can sometimes be quite dark.  Without the Christian disciple, the world would be a much sadder place.  Remember that very often, the only way people will come to know Christ is through your kindness, your empathy, your willingness to walk with them in difficult times.  The world may only know of the love and truth and beauty of Christ when you stand up for what is right and give witness to the truth that eternal life in heaven is something worth working for.  The world needs you to season and light up the world with the presence of Christ; Christ who you have come to know and love in your years here at Saint Mary’s.  When you do that, my friends, you will be wildly successful.

For all these years, we have tried to give you the tools to grow into the people you were meant to become. If you remember these things and use them and grow in them, you will be successful, happy and blessed. The goal of all our lives is to get to heaven one day, and for the time you’ve been in our Catholic school, we have done our best to give you what you need to get there, because getting to heaven is the ultimate badge of success; it’s the greatest measure of our having become who we were meant to be. I hope that you will be reasonably happy in this life, but I really want you to be eternally happy with Christ in heaven one day. I look forward to seeing the great people you will surely become as you continue to be involved here at Saint Mary Immaculate in the years to come. May God bless you in every moment of your lives. And don’t ever forget who is the source of real success: Christ our God, who showed us the way to success by becoming victorious over sin and death.

Tuesday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

As many of you know, I enjoy cooking. And so our Gospel reading’s reference to seasoning resonates with me quite a bit. Sometimes you can under-season a dish: when you’re cooking, if you don’t add seasoning as you go along, at the end you can never put in enough salt or pepper to make it taste right. Sometimes you can over-season a dish, too. And then all you get is salt taste, and you’ve ruined what you were hoping for. But when you get it just right, the salt you’ve added brings out the other flavors in a dish and everything tastes just right. I love to go over to Penzey’s downtown here, because all the wonderful spices and herbs they have on display give me wonderful ideas of how to cook with just the right seasoning.

And Jesus wants us to think about that today in terms of the Christian life. Jesus doesn’t want us to be under-seasoned. We need to add seasoning all along the way: during the journey of our life, we have to be seasoned with the sacraments and with scripture so that we can come to the banquet just right. And we can’t be over-seasoned either. We have to, as St. Benedict teaches us, pray and work. Otherwise all our prayer and scripture end up all in our heads and never in our hearts, and that’s not right.

I don’t want the next two weeks to be a whole Fr. Pat retrospective, but I do feel like today’s Gospel says a lot about how I’ve experienced my time at St. Raphael’s. You have been salt and light to me. I have learned a lot along the way as you have seasoned me with your wisdom, your prayerfulness, and your willingness to serve and grow. I found that I couldn’t help but get caught up in all that, and have really loved how much I’ve learned and experienced in three too-short years. Remember then, to be salt and light for the new guy – and I say that knowing that you will be, because you can’t help it, that’s who you are as a parish.

When it comes right down to it, we are all here to season each other’s lives. We will never regret what we have given to others in terms of sharing time or experience, in terms of praying or working together. The grace of being salt and light for each other is so preferable to being the bland consumers our society would have us be. Who in our lives needs our salt and light today?

Tuesday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings


The Lord takes care of those who are on fire for love of him, he takes care of those who season their lives and the lives of others with the gifts God has given them.  Today, in a very familiar way, we are being called to be salt and light. 

Salt is one of those wonderful things that is great in moderation.  Too much, and you’ve ruined the dish.  Not enough and it’s just bland.  But in just the right proportion, the food is perfectly seasoned.  Similarly, a fervent witness is a great thing.  Too much, and people might turn off your witness.  Too little and nobody will even notice what we’re saying.  But in the right proportion, a fervent witness draws other people to Christ and to the Church, builds up the body of Christ, and sends us all on the way to salvation.

But when the salt loses its flavor, what good is it?  Or when you put a lamp under a bushel basket, what’s the point?  The gifts we have been given, we are to give in return.  The widow at Zarephath learned that in today’s first reading.  She didn’t think she had much, just enough flour and oil to bake a meager cake to provide a last supper for her and her son.  But when she gave even what little she had, she was able to eat for a year, her and her son and her guest too.

The Lord takes care of those who are on fire for love of him, he takes care of those who season their lives and the lives of others with the gifts God has given them.  Whether we think our gifts are a little or a lot is ultimately meaningless.  The only thing that means anything is how willing we are to share them out of love for God and for others.  When we do that, the little we have is increased many times over and all for the glory of God.

Today, we are being called to be salt and light.  God promises to take care of us when we give. 

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