Simply adding salt and lighting the way
By Rev Kenneth & Bernadette Phillips
Salt and light: these are universal aspects of life in all cultures.
Salt is a basic element of Jewish domestic life, and indeed all our lives, giving flavour to our food, useful for preserving and purifying. In the Jewish spiritual/religious setting, salt is used in the rites of sacrifice (Lev 2:13), therefore, the metaphor which Jesus uses would have spoken eloquently to His listeners.
Today, salt has these purposes and many industrial ones as well, including tanning, dyeing, bleaching, production of pottery, soap making, de-icing surfaces and for medicinal purposes. Its spiritual uses are also important today. Blessed salt may be used in the preparation of holy water and in exorcisms.
If we are the “salt of the earth” then we are called to improve the quality of people’s lives; to improve the circumstances/conditions in which they live.
Light: the relevance of this powerful symbol cannot be overlooked. Light illumines the way; facilitates mobility, and provides a sense of direction. The Christian life is a call to follow Christ, our Light.
Baptised and sent, the Church has an indispensable role to play in proclaiming Christ our Light, for the salvation of souls. Our call is to live, by the grace of God and by the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Trinitarian life of love.
St Thomas Aquinas says that to love is to will the good of the other, to promote the well-being of the other, to ensure that the basic human needs of the other are met. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2402) speaks of the “universal destination and the private ownership of goods”; that is, our call to stewardship, rather than to exclusive use of the goods with which we have been blessed.
In 1991, St John Paul II (in his encyclical Centissimus Annus), expanded the term “preferential option for the poor” to include both spiritual and material poverty. These positions are rooted in Leviticus 19:18, in the call from Isaiah to practise the corporal works of mercy, and in the commandment to love our neighbour as Christ has loved us (Jn 13:34–35).
We who are recipients of God’s many blessings ought to be generous in sharing them with those who are in need.
One of the ironies of the gospel is that it sounds too simple (1 Cor 1:23); foolishness to the ‘philosophers’. Similarly, the call to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy seems too simple to be a reliable index of our service/holiness. We want something more esoteric!
And so Paul says that he avoids unnecessary ‘philosophy’ and focuses on the basic message— CHRIST CRUCIFIED; the profound truth of self-donation—time, talent, treasure, and if necessary, one’s life.
Today, just as the profound truth/wisdom of the ‘simple’ gospel can be missed by the view that “we have heard it already,” so too, the effectiveness of the works of mercy in the work of evangelisation can be missed by our thinking that these actions are too simple.
However, just as the moral evil in our land makes our domestic churches into domestic prisons, so too, our acts of kindness and hospitality have tremendous potential for liberating people from yokes of poverty, ignorance, poor self-image and spiritual blindness.
As the Church engages its ministry of being salt and light, it therefore promotes authentic human development. The work of our many lay ecclesial communities—Zion, Eternal Light, Living Water etc.—as well as that of many NGOs —ALTA, Vision on Mission, the SVP etc.—bear eloquent testimony to this.
May God bless the work of these and other organisations which add flavour to our lives and which tirelessly shine their light in the darkness.
The gospel meditations for February are by Rev Kenneth & Bernadette Phillips, catechists of St Joseph’s, Scarborough.