Fr. Charles Irvin
5th Sun [A] 2011
Isaiah 58:7-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
Jesus came from Isaiah’s people. Isaiah had commanded them to share their bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, and to clothe the naked. “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted, if you do justice… then shall you be justified. Then shall your light break forth like the dawn and the glory of the Lord shall shine about you.”
In His inaugural address when He began His public ministry, after He had returned from being in the desert for forty days and forty nights and was subsequently baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptizer, Jesus announced to the people of His own home town, the people of Nazareth: “The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
To be holy is to be one with the One who is holy, not to simply think nice thoughts about Him. Goodness and holiness are the result of love. Goodness and holiness consist in actively loving others, with deeds, as God loves us. One is holy because one lives with and acts with the One who is holy, Christ Jesus, — God made flesh for us. This is summed up nicely at the end of the Eucharist Prayer of the Mass immediately before we pray the Lord’s Prayer. I was to also point out that in the Lord’s Prayer we pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
To be joined in love with Jesus Christ consists in actively living as He lived, in being salt and light for others. Thus Jesus tells us: “You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world.” These words are God’s words calling us to live in concern for others. Salt is active, and light is active, not passive. Being salt and light for others is part and parcel of being a disciple of Christ, of being a Christian. Every Christian has to strive for personal sanctification, but what we need to remember is that in order to be holy we must be about the task of bringing others to be a part of the One who is holy. Jesus teaches us this; in fact He commands it. Sharing our own personal experience of the presence of God is the substance of being salt and light for others.
St. Therese of Lisieux once wrote: “I see now that true charity consists in bearing with the faults of those about us, never being surprised at their weaknesses, but edified at the least sign of virtue. I see above all that charity must not remain hidden in the bottom of our hearts: nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” Your love, she wrote, must be seen – not so that people may give you honor and glory but so that they may see your good works and give praise to your Father in heaven.
Living for others and unselfishly caring for others like Christ is the clearest expression of love. The Second Vatican Council emphasized the Christian’s duty to be apostolic. Baptism and Confirmation confer this duty upon us (which is also a right) because in Baptism and Confirmation we are anointed to be a part of the Body of Christ here on earth. All of us have countless opportunities to be salt and light for others. The very nature of the Christian life consists in doing good things for others not simply to be nice but in a supernatural spirit, in the life and motivation of Jesus Christ. Which is why He told us: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
But what if your salt goes flat? How can you restore its flavor? And what if your light is hidden under a bushel? Jesus knows how much we may be tempted to be timid; how often we are motivated and controlled by concern about what others may think of us, how often we are controlled by fear. We so often keep our faith and our religious values hidden. Indeed there are many voices around us telling us to keep our faith in private and away from the public square. They do not want us to “impose our values” on them even by expressing them in public. Faith, they say, is a private matter and isn’t supposed to make a difference in our society, isn’t supposed to be seen in our secularized and multicultural society.
These are the voices of those who are more concerned about individual rights than our common good. Hyper-individualism is in vogue these days with the result that our common good and our commonly shared values are diminished. When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God on earth He is speaking of our human family and the shared values we should all promote together. After all, God sent His only-begotten Son into the world not to condemn it, but to save it. In that world that we share in common, we have our individual responsibilities to bring God’s light into whatever darkness besets us as a whole. We are to be light and salt not just to save our selves, but, with Jesus, to redeem the world.
If we are honest we will see that our faith functions little, if at all, in the agenda of our political parties. Oh, the talk is talked, but the walk is not walked. Lip-service is paid, but it is money and materialism that usually controls our political agenda. Compromise and reduction to the lowest common denominator are so often the controlling principles of our politics. Instead of having politicians who are leaders we have politicians who are led by opinion polls, and by money, too. As Will Rogers once noted, “we have the best politicians that money can buy.” What we need today is bold and courageous leaders, men and women who are not controlled by opinion polls or by the popularity of what other people think.
Can we, then, give witness to an evangelical faith in our public lives? YES, I say, we can! But it requires that we have the courage to stand out in the crowd so as to be salt and light. Our tastes must, like salt — be sharp and noticeable, not so bland and flat that we are hardly noticed at all. And our humility must be such that we realize that what we think and say and do is not for our own honor and glory, but for God’s.
You have been Baptized and Confirmed. The Spirit of the Lord has come upon you; He has anointed you to bring good news to the poor. He has sent you “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed…” You are to follow Isaiah’s command and bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy those afflicted by oppression and injustice. Then shall you be justified. Then shall your light break forth like the dawn and your salt shall never be flat and good for nothing. And the glory of the Lord shall shine about you, not just for your sake, but for the sake of those around you.