08 Feb Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Shawn Hughes
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. So as we begin to post these homilies on our website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be nothing original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures.
God bless you.
You will remember last week’s Gospel was the eight Beatitudes from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel. It is one of the most beautiful and one of the most important teachings in the New Testament. What could be more compelling? Jesus, the Son of God, giving each of us the formula of how to be happy…actually of how to get to heaven.
At the heart of Jesus’ entire teaching are these beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the gentle, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers and blessed are the pure of heart. If we want to be happy we need to strive for these because they are the way we most directly participate in the divine life.
Today’s gospel is the next few lines after Jesus pronounced the beatitudes. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Just before these two lines Jesus pronounced the final beatitude: “Blessed are you when people persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ”
This final beatitude reminds us that Christian witness to Jesus is not always easy and today’s gospel reminds each of us that witnessing to Jesus is the task of each and every one of us. Jesus does not say “I am the salt of the earth” In this text he does not say “I am the light of the world.” He says to each one of us: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world” Christ, our King, has made each one of us his ambassadors and sends us out to announce His Kingship everywhere. Christ has entrusted us to carry forward his mission of salvation. The Sermon on the Mount presents the life of discipleship as a life within a community, but not a community that keeps only to itself BUT a community that is charged with a mission to the world. Jesus lived his life for the sake of the world that persecuted him. As his disciples we too are to live our lives for the sake of the world, as a witness to the world. We are not to hoard the treasures he has given us of Himself, nor are we to let them go to waste.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Each of these two familiar examples suggests ways as to how we may exercise our witness to the world of the presence of Christ in our lives.
You are the salt of the earth denotes a subtle kind of discipleship. If food is seasoned correctly you don’t notice the seasoning. Just the great taste of the particular dish. On the other hand most of us can tell after one taste of something whether it needs salt. Salt does not exist for itself. Nor do disciples, our life is meant to be turned outward to the world. Our presence in the world might be just that subtle, enriching human life without calling attention to ourselves. In a worried world the Christian should be the one who remains peaceful. In a depressed world the Christian should be the one who remains full of the joy of life. In a world of need the Christian should be the first in line to reach out a hand in care.
You are the light of the world Jesus tells his disciples. This is a more dramatic form of witness. Jesus said elsewhere: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5) When he commanded us, his disciples to be the lights of the world, he demanded nothing less than that we should be like him. There are circumstances when we are called to pierce the darkness with the bold proclamation of the Gospel. So many circumstances in our present-day world cry out for light. Our witness does not necessarily have to be verbal. Jesus concludes today’s gospel with the simple prayer: That people may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father.
These two sayings picture, mission, going out to others, as inherent to discipleship. Missionary disciples, called to be witnesses of light into the darkness that is the world. The mission is, by our presence, by people striving to live the beatitudes, to literally glorify God out in the world. It is our actions and our words to our family, to our coworkers, among those with whom we study or recreate that truly glorify God or not. A good question for examination this upcoming week is: “Do my actions…Does what I say…give glory to God?
How often I hear people say: “Religion is a private affair. My faith is a matter between God and me.” That is the exact opposite of what Jesus is saying in the gospel today. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Often I hear parents say to me that they never raise the subject of the faith with their adult children…it is too contentious. My response to that is: “If you don’t, who will?” In the circumstance of your family you are the salt of the earth and when dramatic circumstances call for it You are to be the Light to your family. Gently, lovingly…but courageously…
Jesus was not telling his disciples that by doing good works, by living the beatitudes, they would earn salvation. He was saying that the works they did would be a proclamation of the faith in their hearts. Just as it is the very nature of salt to flavour and preserve, so it is the very nature of light to shine and illuminate what is around it. Similarly, it must be the nature of us, Jesus’ disciples, to reflect his light to a darkened world, so that people will see, know, and glorify the Father in Heaven. The Alpha course and Catholicism 201 are just that… disciples shining the light for those who do not yet know so they will come to see, know and glorify the Father in Heaven.
Many of us find this part of our faith intimidating. One of the key reasons it intimidates us is that we think that because of our own faults, failings and sinfulness that we are not worthy witnesses to give glory to the Father.
As you know I am just back from a wonderful eight days of silent retreat. I was at a retreat house run by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary in Boston. The founder of this order, the Venerable Bruno Lanteri, would often counsel people who felt they had fallen too many times, to repeat these words to themselves:
“I will not allow myself to be discouraged however often I may fall. If God is for me, who can be against me? (Romans 8:31) Though I fall a thousand times, each time, even the thousandth, I will rise again as peaceful as if it were the first, knowing my weakness and knowing , Lord your great mercy. And so even if I should fall a thousand times a day, a thousand times, with peaceful repentance. I will say immediately, my God, my God, Nunc Coepi (Now I begin).”
Discouragement and fear are the work of the devil. We must stand firmly in the truth of our weaknesses and turn to the Lord for mercy. Beginning again. Venerable Bruno Lanteri would say that over and over…Now I begin.
To a woman who had become deeply discouraged he wrote: “Holiness does not consist in never falling, but in rising immediately, recognizing our weakness and asking God’s forgiveness, and in doing this with peace of heart, without letting ourselves be troubled…It is very important to understand deeply how good God is, and not to measure him by our own limitations or think that he tires of our wavering, weakness, and negligence; that because of our sins he withdraws his help and denies his grace…Our God is not such…Let us think of him as he truly is, filled with goodness, mercy, and compassion, and let us know him as the loving Father that he is, who raises us when we have fallen, who never tires of forgiving us, and to whom we give great joy and honour when we seek forgiveness. And so let your heart be joyful, give yourself as completely as you can to God, banish any doubts, and tell God that you never wish consciously to do anything that would displease him. For the rest, do not be troubled. God is with you and will help you and will not let you fall.”
In light of such a reflection I need to ask myself: Do I really understand HOW good God is? Do I think of the depth of His goodness? The depth of His mercy? The depth of His compassion? Do we truly know Him as the loving Father he is?…who never tires of forgiving us?…to whom we give great joy and honour when we seek forgiveness? Do we really understand how intimately he is with us?
This is what a person of the beatitudes is: those who understand the goodness of God, the depth His mercy and compassion and know Him as a loving, merciful, forgiving Father…This is what being poor in spirit really means…being humble…and from that level of humility…standing in the truth of our own weaknesses flows the other beatitudes: loving and caring about the needs of others, gentle, hungering for what is right, forgiving, peace-filled, focussed on the one thing and staying strong in suffering. This is how we give glory to God.
Neither salt nor light exist for themselves. Nor does the disciple. Our whole reason for being is turned outward to the world: to our families, our work, our places of study, our friends, whomever we meet. The Lord reaches out to those who need Him through us and to us.
By living the Beatitudes we are ambassadors of Christ…missionary disciples…to the world.
YOU are the salt of the earth. YOU are the light of the world.