You are the light of the world; you are salt of the earth. Today as Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount he gives us some insight into what it means to be Christian. We are to be salt and light, and as salt we cannot become flavorless, and as light we cannot be hidden. Both of these images give us a clue into our relationship with the world at large.
First, salt is and was used as a seasoning. Alton Brown, one of my favorite TV chefs, says that all of cooking is just a matter of managing heat and salt. In recent years, salt has taken a bit of a PR hit, being blamed for high blood pressure and heart disease. But, the fact remains that we like salt. It adds depth and flavor to our food. My Mom is a huge salt fanatic. In fact she always says that French Fries were invented because it looks strange to eat salt and ketchup with a spoon. We are the salt of the earth. So we are supposed to give the world flavor. The culture we live in should benefit by our presence as food benefits from a dash of salt. This means that Christians are not supposed to be drab and boring. Rather, Christians are called to be exciting and engaging. Some of the greatest poets, novelist, actors, athletes, and musicians have been Catholics. However, in our modern times it seems that much of what makes our culture interesting has become primarily a secular domain. This is not right. We should see culture as a place where a Christian imagination can flourish. So, we should not abandon our uniqueness because we are Catholic; rather, it should be used to give flavor to the culture.
There was a second use for salt in the days past. Before the invention of the refrigerator, salt was used as a preservative. Meat, when placed in a barrel of salt, would keep through the year. So, just as we are supposed to provide flavor to the culture, I think we should also work to preserve what is good in the world. People will often say to me: "Father, this world is really going down the tubes." In many ways this might be correct, but we should not abandon the world, but we should work to make the world a better place. Jesus calls us the salt of the earth, so we should give the culture a genuine flavor and preserve culture by defend what is right.
Still, Jesus does not end there. He also calls us to be light of the world. Let your light shine before all so that they might see your good works and give glory to God. Our first reading today tells us a few ways that we can make this happen: share your bread with the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, clothe the naked, do not turn your back on those who need you etc. Jesus commands us to be the light of the world. That means that an essential part of our baptismal vocation to holiness is the care of others. On the day of our baptism we all received a lit candle (or our Godparents received it for us) and we heard: receive the light of Christ. This light, which represents the presence of God dwelling within us, was not given for our enjoyment. Rather, Christ is the light of the world. He longs to shine into the darkness. However, he has chosen to use us as his instruments. His light will shine into the world, but he decided to have the light shine through his disciples. Christ's light will only shine if it comes through us.
Jesus places some serious demands upon us today. As the salt of the earth, we are called to flavor and preserve authentic culture. As the light of the world, we are to shine the light of Christ into the dark places. Both of these metaphors seem to imply certain actions. Yet, we must remember one simple fact. Before salt can be used to flavor something, it first must have flavor. A candle must be lit before it can cast light into the room. For us to be salt and light, we must first come into contact with Christ. Our relationship with Christ must be the seasoning of our lives. Hopefully your relationship with Christ is what gives your life meaning and direction. Very often, I think we get the impression that Christianity is a matter of avoiding mortal sins. Certainly it is important to avoid mortal sins, but the simple avoidance of sin is a bland existence. We are supposed to be full of flavor, we only get that with a living and vital relationship with Christ, which is fed by our daily prayer. St Paul tells us in the Second Reading that he was resolved to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. What a beautiful way to describe the necessary relationship with Christ. Do you know Christ? Do you know what it means that he was crucified? Have you experienced that love for yourself? Only when we do that can we expect to be good for anything else. Only if we have flavor, only if we have received light from Christ, can we give flavor, give light.
I think this is what the sacraments do for us. On the day of our baptism we received the light of Christ and here at this Mass we receive the Holy Eucharist. We come in contact with Christ, he fills us so that we might have something to offer the rest of the world.