Sunday, February 5, 2017

BECOMING SALT AND LIGHT FOR OTHERS: A Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (Matthew 5:13–16)

You can listen to this homily here.
What very simple images, salt and light.  What does salt do?  It preserves by opposing corruption and it improves the flavour, makes it clearer, and besides our bodies need it.  Likewise what good is a lamp that does not illuminate?  It is no longer a lamp.  Salt that no longer functions as salt is useless and a broken lamp is thrown out. 
Our Lord then seems to take a different tack.  Elsewhere He tells us not to parade our good works and yet here He tells us that all the world should see them.  Is He not contradicting Himself?  Elsewhere He is addressing us as individuals but here is talking to us as the community of the Church.  As individuals we should not look to glorify ourselves or to seek salvation through our own efforts but as a community when we work together to do good we are proclaiming Him and the works that glorify Him ought to be out there where everyone can see.  For instance the Cork Penny Dinners is the work of many generous individuals and they deserve our gratitude but few could name or identify them.  The attention the Penny Dinners gets helps them do their work and gives others a chance to contribute but it does not bring fame and glory to those involved.  Their thanks will come from the Lord Himself!
When you were baptized you were immersed into Christ and when you were confirmed He gave you His Spirit to strengthen you for service.  Among the Eastern Christians Baptism is called Photismos , literally ‘Enlightenment’.  We have been enlightened and empowered by Christ to be His presence to others.  We are here in this world to be, to make a difference, not just any difference but a difference that draws others to know and love the Lord.  We are to be salt that fights corruption, preserving what is good and opposing what is evil.  We are here to be a light so that others can see their way to true health and wholeness.  We are here so that others can know right from wrong in a world clouded with confusion and deception.  We are to be light that illuminates others, that helps them see the truth, the true order of things.  Our faith can never be private or merely personal, it is a public thing by its very nature and demands that we enlighten those around us above all, but not only, by the good we do to others.  This light is not our light, it does not come from us or our nature but from the grace of the Lord working in us.
Receiving Holy Communion in the state of grace is the way to be empowered to truly love and be the bearers of His light to others.
St John of the Cross said that at the end we will be examined in love and it is this love that we are called to show to others.  When we love others because Christ loves us we are growing in that light, that love that is the very air and fragrance of Heaven. 
How do we know Christ loves us?  By prayer and reflection.  When I say prayer I do not mean saying prayers.  So many of us stop our spiritual development at a certain point never moving on beyond it.  Consider the farm labourer whom St John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, tells us about.  He noticed the man would spend hours in church praying so St John asked him how do you pray?  “Oh” said the man,” I just looks at Him and He just looks at me.”  This man had not stopped growing in prayer and achieved real depth in his relationship with the Lord, He had discovered that the Lord loved him and he loved the Lord in return.  The way we pray does not really matter, prayer varies from person.  Prayer should even vary not only with our age, our health and our gender but with the time of day!  The rosary is a powerful prayer when prayed as it ought to be but it is not suitable for every occasion.  There are many ways to pray.
Through Baptism and Confirmation we are united with Christ, one flesh, one Person with Him and when we pray not as a mere creature to our creator we pray in union with Him as Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit.  The purpose of prayer is not to ask for things, still less to get God to change but that we might change.  Real prayer brings conversion and growth; it helps us to become salt and light in a world that is bland and stuck in the shadows of death.
We know that there is a landscape, literally nature as it has been shaped and sculpted by human beings, but there is, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, an ‘inscape’ an interior world that we are also called to explore and shape.  So many of us leave it neglected and let it go to wilderness.  Then we wonder why we do things!  That interior world is infinite because it is filled with God.  Each and every one of us, because of our Baptism, is filled with God and prayer is an exploration of that Presence of God within us. 
How ought we to pray?  When the apostles saw Jesus praying they asked Him to teach them.  His answer was the ‘Our Father’.  It is the perfect example of a prayer: short and to the point.  Yet praying is more than prayers.  Praying means consciously being in the Presence of God, it is lifting our heart and mind up to God or rather placing them in His Presence.  Real prayer is time spent with God.  As St Teresa of Avila said “Prayer is time spent with Someone who loves me.”   She taught her sisters to use the ‘Our Father’.  She learned that from the Spanish Franciscans.  One of their greatest saints was once asked about how he prayed the Our Father.  He said he was still on the first two words.
Start small but aim big; start with fifteen minutes set aside for the Lord.  Keep your prayers short but try to lengthen the time, repeating the prayer, if possible in rhythm to your breathing.  What is most important are the moments of silence and stillness before the Lord.  Over time these will grow in number and length and out of them will flow joy and peace. 
Do not be upset if there are distractions.  Everyone gets distracted even at Mass.  Its what you do with those distractions.  Once we notice that we have wandered away from the Lord’s Presence then we return to that Presence even if we have to keep doing it again and again.  This is actually good for us.  If we notice our distraction and do not return to the Lord then we are deceiving ourselves.  We are like someone who claims they love another but then refuse to pay them any attention.  Love that ignores is not love.

You can pray anywhere and anytime but the better the quality of the place and time the more benefit you will get from it.  Remember to keep it simple.  Be like that French peasant: sit with the Lord, let Him look at you with love and love Him in return.  Then you will be salt and light indeed.

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