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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Fr. Bob Warren's Weekly Reflection: Salt & Light

Franciscan Friars
Salt & Light
(Matthew 5:13-16)
Reading the morning paper or watching the evening news can be a discouraging experience. The things that we encounter are usually bad. The news usually consists of the three D's: drugs, death, destruction. Our first inclination is to complain about it and wish that it were not so.
Jesus also lived in a sick world. In some ways, it was even sicker than ours. The government was harsh and cruel. Human rights were virtually unknown. Slavery was an established institution. People were bought and sold like cattle. Instead of the Super Bowl, entertainment consisted of two gladiators who fought to the death.
As one of our poets said, those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap. If we have reason to fret and complain about the sad shape of our world, Jesus had all the more, yet I cannot recall that He ever did. Instead of becoming obsessed with problems, He concentrated on solutions, and part of His solution to the world's sickness was that little group of people gathered around Him.
In this gospel reading, He said to them, "You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world." That must have come as quite a shock. I am sure that they had never thought of themselves in such terms. The sickness of the world was not their problem. They did not cause it, and they certainly could not cure it. But Jesus thought otherwise. He saw them as both part of the problem and part of the solution, and the same is true for you and me.
Jesus tells us here that we are different. We are distinctive. Therefore, He says, we should set our light on a hill and not hide it under a basket. This does not mean that Christians are better than others. This is not a statement of intrinsic value, but of role. We are to be the lighthouse; the world is the ship. Perhaps the specialness of Christianity is one of the hardest things for us to accept. It has been proven that most of us do not wish to be different. We just want to be like those around us. Most of us just want to fit in. Wear the same kind of clothes, go to the same places and watch the same TV shows.
In past societies, people sought honor and excellence. They sought to be better than average. Today, many people want to be average in every way, to think the way everyone else does, or let the media do their thinking for them. There are event TV quiz shows that reward contestants for the answer which most people surveyed gave, rather than for the best or most original answer. We penalize people for being original.
Jesus tells us not to be conformed to the world. We are the light of the world. We are the church, and the Church is to lead the world, not follow it. He is telling us that it is not worth anything at all to be a Christian if it doesn't make a difference in your life. In other words, don't be a Christian if you want to be like everyone else—if you only want to follow the crowd.
So how are we different? The source of our difference is invisible, but the fruit is visible. The source is faith, and the fruit is love. So what are the visible effects of our faith? The reading from the Prophet Isaiah gives us the answer. Listen to it again: share your bread with the hungry and shelter the homeless. Clothe the person you see to be naked, and turn not from our own kin. If you do away with the yoke, the clenched fist, the wicked word, your light will rise in the darkness. We can't see faith, but we can see its fruits. And it worked once; it conquered the world. A hard, cynical world sat up and took notice at the distinctiveness of the disciples of Jesus. "See how they love one another," they said in astonishment. This was not ordinary human love, the way the world loved, but something the world had not seen before—unselfish love, crucified love. It was the real presence of Christ in the world working through humans, working through his Church, the body of Christ.
St. Francis of Assisi once said, "If you are at prayer, and God graces you with the joy of mystical experience, a foretaste of heaven itself, and a stranger knocks at your door asking for a cup of water, you must leave the heavenly joys and go to the earthly... for you will only be going from Christ to Christ."
That all sounds wonderful, but the question remains, how can I do it, what practical changes can I bring about in myself so that I can see Christ in my neighbor and treat my neighbor as Christ? St. Paul gives us an answer to that question in a second reading, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. We want to change our actions, and actions follow thoughts, so we must change our thoughts. This is what Paul did. He said simply, I made up my mind to know only Jesus Christ. This does not mean ignoring people. It means seeing Christ in them, for Jesus always sends you to your neighbor, but your neighbor doesn't always send you to Jesus. That is why the first commandment says to love God; the second to love your neighbor. But to try to love a neighbor without God is like trying to irrigate a field without water. For God is where love comes from. Jesus tells us, "Let your light shine so that all people will know that you are My disciples, so that seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven."
Let your light shine. Become the salt of the earth. Dare to be different.
Fr. Robert Warren
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Robert Warren Signature
Fr. Robert Warren, S.A.
Spiritual Director
Franciscan Friars
Franciscan Friars of the Atonement
GRAYMOOR P.O. Box 301, Garrison, NY 10524
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