Sunday, February 9, 2014

Salt and light already

HOMILY FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 9, 2014:
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Three people were viewing the Grand Canyon one day.  One was an artist, one a priest and the third was a cowboy. As they stood on the edge of that massive abyss, each one responded to the wonder before them from their own particular perspective. The artist said, “What a beautiful scene to paint!”  The priest cried, “What a wonderful example of God’s handiwork!” Finally the cowboy sighed and said, “Heck of a place to lose a cow.”

Perspective matters.  In our Gospel today, Jesus proclaimed, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world… Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”  We know this passage well, but I think that the most common perspective preached on it focuses on our failure along with an encouragement. In other words, we usually hear, “You are supposed to be the salt of the earth and light of the world; so get to it!!”  But, as I reflected on this Gospel this week in my own prayer, what kept coming to me were images of different people. These weren’t people who are failing at their mission as salt and light, but rather people shining brightly and bringing the full flavor of the Gospel to bear.

For example, I kept thinking about my grandfather and in particular the night that he returned to Heaven.  When he passed, of course, there was sadness, but it wasn’t the same kind of sadness that we often experience with a loss. And that was because we knew where he was going.  My grandfather lived his life as a deeply prayerful man, devoted to God; devoted to the Church; devoted to his wife and children; devoted to service.  He was a man that everyone knew and loved.  He always had a smile on his face, a joke to tell (that he never told correctly), a joyful song to sing (whether or not he could carry a note), and a kind word to share.  For me, he was a model of how a good, holy, Christian man lives his life.  And as I held his hand surrounded by family on the night he returned to Heaven there was in that room even a sense of joy because we knew he was receiving the reward that God had prepared for him from before time began.  For me, he was the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

And you know, as I speak of him, I’m sure you’re thinking of someone in your family or in your life who was also salt and light.  We all know people like my grandfather and all of them go to Heaven.  We can be tempted to think that holiness is something abstract or an ideal. But, I know that holiness is something real and tangible. We can be tempted to think that holiness is like caviar for the privileged few, like St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas or Blessed Pope John Paul the 2nd, soon to be saint.  But, I have come to see that holiness is as common as salt.  When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” He didn’t say, “you will be salt and light”, He said you are! He was reminding us, His followers, of our call to live and spread His Gospel.  He was telling us what we can become through His grace.  But, I think He was also paying them and us a compliment.  Jesus was telling them that He already knew how good they were; how holy they were; and He is saying the same to us.

Any homilist today has a choice between a homily that is a pat on the back or a slap on the cheek.  I think today is a good day to offer ourselves a pat on the back. All of us here today are, to one degree or another, the salt of the earth and the light of the world already. If we look around, we just might realize that we meet holiness in each other every day.  We can see it in the devotion of those who come to daily Mass; those who have reared their families and taught them to share a devotion to God and His church.  We can see it in the innocent faces of the beautiful young people joyfully coming to church with a smile on their face.  We see this holiness in those who care for the needy of our community, whose ministry brings them to prisons and nursing homes and homeless shelters; we see this holiness in the face of the sick and the dying facing the greatest challenge of their lives with tremendous faith.  Holiness is all around us.  We are salt and light already.

This holiness is prayer-powered and grace-filled!  This much we all know, but we also need remember that this holiness reveals itself to us in human form.  It is the sanctity that nods to us on the street; that offers us a bowl of hot soup on a cold day or helps to shovel us out from yet another snow storm. It is in the face of the person who tells us not to worry or that they understand what we’re going through or that they will offer a prayer for us and our needs.  If our eyes our open, we can recognize the holiness that surrounds us at nearly every moment not floating high in the heavens out of reach, but right in front of us in the level that we live.

If there is a challenge to be found for us today as we hear these words about salt and light it is this – let us all pledge to expand the area of goodness and holiness in our lives.  If we are reaching out this far in goodness, let us agree to reach out that much farther.  Let us acknowledge today in this holy place for this Holy Mass that we are holy; let us remember all of the good and important ways that God’s holiness already shines on our faces and in our lives through our idealism, our commitment to faith and family and Church, through our devotion to prayer, our acceptance of the values of the Gospel, our prayerful celebration of the Holy Mass, our continual outreach to the homeless, the hungry, the sick and imprisoned. Be the change you want to see in the world; pay it forward; shine your light.

I think that Jesus wants us to know today that holiness is not only our destination it is our present reality – always in need of purification, of course; but we are already the salt of the earth and the light of the world and our good deeds give glory and praise to our Heavenly Father.  Well done, good and faithful servants!

May the Lord give you peace.

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