Salt and Light

In this short Gospel passage, Jesus makes two emphatic statements, ‘You are the salt of the earth’ and ‘You are the light of the world.’ In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, these statements follow the Beatitudes, in the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, . . . Blessed are those who mourn, . . . Blessed are the meek” . . . (Matthew 5:3-11).

St. Augustine had several intuitions about the Beatitudes, which were followed by other saints such as St. Thomas Aquinas. First, St. Augustine taught the sayings in the Beatitudes are directed at all Christians and are not unrealistic or unattainable impossible standards.

As the Catechism notes, the Beatitudes are a divine calling which “makes us partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life” (CCC 1721, 2 Peter 1:4; cf. John 17:3). They describe the journey of the soul through the stages of deeper conversion. The journey begins with humility and sorrow for sin, and then enters into a hunger for God. The soul is then immersed in God’s mercy, and our hearts are purified and we attain supernatural peace with God. This entire journey is a supernatural gift which “disposes man to enter into the divine joy” (CCC 1722).

This focus of the Beatitudes on a personal interior journey of the soul, should not lead us to think exclusively of a secluded life devoted to prayer. While there are some special religious callings devoted to secluded prayer, most of us are called to be in the midst of the world.

In fact, Jesus’ two emphatic statements, ‘You are the salt of the earth’ and ‘You are the light of the world, are descriptions of our interior life being revealed to the world. One might imagine a glass partly filled with water. As long as the glass is only partly filled, the water stays neatly inside the glass and does not affect the environment outside. If we keep filling the glass with water, however, it will eventually overflow and water will begin to pour out everywhere affecting everything around it.

Jesus’ images of salt and light are intended to represent the natural overflow of the life in the Spirit created by the soul’s journey towards God. They are not tasks to be accomplished, but instead the natural fruit of our interior life lived in communion with Christ. They are the overflow of our prayer.

Salt in the ancient world was a basic and universal commodity. It was used to preserve food and also to season it. In our modern world of convenience, perhaps fewer and fewer people would take the time to make their own broth or soup stock. If you have tried this, you would realize that you can make a rich broth of meat and vegetables with the perfect blend of spices, but if you leave out the salt it will literally taste insipid. As soon as the right amount of salt is added, all the flavors of the soup are enhanced.

Jesus imagines us as the salt of the world. Our joy and our life in the Spirit should bring a certain zest to our daily life which makes all of life more enjoyable and meaningful. The joy of the Lord is a certain ineffable overflow of our life with him in prayer.

Salt was also used in the Old Testament as a means of making things pure and ceremonially holy (Exodus 30:35; 2 Kings 2:19–22). In his summary of this entire chapter (Matthew 5), Christ commands his followers to imitate God in his holiness. “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). St. Paul echoes a similar thought, “This is the will of God, your holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

Building on the earlier intuitions of St. Francis de Sales for lay spirituality, the fathers of the Second Vatican emphasized that there is a universal call to holiness for all of the faithful, based on our baptismal vocation, which results in an apostolic outlook toward the world around us (LG 30-36). Every baptized Christian is called to a life of holiness. While there certainly is wisdom and technique involved in evangelization, one profound aspect of our “saltiness” in this world is our personal holiness in our daily life.

Jesus cautions us not to allow our salt to lose its taste or saltiness. As Pope Francis notes, “We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness” (EG 42).

Jesus second metaphor is echoed in our psalm response, “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.” Each one of us is called to be “the light of the world.” Unbelief is a kind of darkness which is illuminated by the light of faith. Jesus metaphor emphasizes that it is impossible to imagine the light of faith as something which is deliberately hidden. Like a city on a hill, it cannot be hidden even if it desired to be.

Jesus admonishes us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Again this is not about going out and doing something unnatural to make ourselves “light up,” it should be the natural light of Christ within us irresistibly shining. Yet recently Pope Francis reminded us that we need to get out of the sacristy and “Learn from the style of Jesus, who went to the places of daily life.” (Oct 23, 2016).

We often seem to miss the central teaching of the Second Vatican Council that the lay faithful exercise their primary apostolate of the evangelization and sanctification of all people outside the walls of the church and in the midst of the world and in their daily life by “penetrating and perfecting” the “temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel.” (AA 2). The lay faithful are to be like leaven or light in the midst of the world. Our daily work can be a means of our personal sanctification; a means of sanctifying others and a means of bringing about the sanctification of the whole world.

Imagine the transformation that would occur in our world if we came to realize that the light of Christ shines in every aspect of our daily life. There are no corners or separate rooms which this light does not touch. What if we said, “Thank God It’s Monday! Lord, let your light shine in my life today.”

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Daily Scripture Readings

Monday, February 10
1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-13
Psalms 132:6-7, 8-10
Mark 6:53-56

Tuesday, February 11
1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30
Psalms 84:3, 4, 5 & 10, 11
Mark 7:1-13

Wednesday, February 12
1 Kings 10:1-10
Psalms 37:5-6, 30-31, 39-40
Mark 7:14-23

Thursday, February 13
1 Kings 11:4-13
Psalms106:3-4, 35-36, 37 & 40
Mark 7:24-30

Friday, February 14
1 Kings 11:29-32; 12:19
Psalms 81:10-11ab, 12-13, 14-15
Mark 7:31-37

Saturday, February 15
1 Kings 12:26-32; 13:33-34
Psalms 106:6-7ab, 19-20, 21-22
Mark 8:1-10

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 16
Sirach 15:15-20
Psalms 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Matthew 5:17-37 or 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

Monday, February 17
James 1:1-11
Psalms 119:67, 68, 71, 72, 75, 76
Mark 8:11-13

Tuesday, February 18
James 1:12-18
Psalms 94:12-13a, 14-15, 18-19
Mark 8:14-21

Wednesday, February 19
James 1:19-27
Psalms 15:2-3a, 3bc-4ab, 5
Mark 8:22-26

Thursday, February 20
James 2:1-9
Psalms 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Mark 8:27-33

Friday, February 21
James 2:14-24, 26
Psalms 112:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Mark 8:34–9:1

Saturday, February 22
1 Peter 5:1-4
Psalms 23:1-3a, 4, 5, 6
Matthew 16:13-19

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 23
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Psalms 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48


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December 02, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph