Saturday, February 4, 2017
Be the Light!
I am continually in awe of the way that our weekly Scriptures seem to speak directly to things going on in our world. As I reflected on our first reading from Isaiah, the words had a sense of being ripped from the headlines. We heard, “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.” We know that the news – and probably our own conversations at work, with friends, at home – have been dominated by talk about President Trump’s new directives affecting the ability of refugees and immigrants to come to our shores.
Several Church leaders have spoken out against these directives. A good example would be the response of Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, NJ. He said, “I understand the desire for every American to be assured of safe borders and freedom from terrorism. The federal government should continue a prudent policy aimed at protecting citizens. But, I also understand and heed the call of God, who through Moses told the people of Israel: ‘You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.’ Jesus asks His disciples to go further, calling on us to recognize Him in the stranger: ‘Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me.’”
All of the division and contention we’ve experienced can leave us wondering what should we do? How do we as people of faith respond to all of this negativity swirling all around us? Is our own response nothing more than the same partisan responses that we see played out in the media over and over and over again?
Well, Jesus gives us the answer to that question this week. He said, “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.” Now, this may seem like a simplistic answer, but what Jesus is reminding us in the midst of the challenges in our world, is that we must respond to the world around us in a different way, in the way that we have been called to, in the way that is the signature of those who are followers of Jesus – we are called to be not like the rest, but instead to be salt and light. This is our identity and our response must be rooted here.
Recalling our identity grounds us and keep us rooted in something bigger. Our identity as Americans calls us to be welcoming, generous, desiring for all people the same kind of opportunities and freedoms that we enjoy. The great wonder of the American dream is that it is limitless. It doesn’t have a maximum number of participants. It doesn’t have a limit on who can succeed. We believe that nothing can hold you back once you have arrived on these shores and read the words emblazoned on Lady Liberty:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
We add to this, our identity as people of faith and followers of Christ, the identity of salt and light. It is an identity that calls us to have a preference, as Isaiah reminds us today, for the homeless, the hungry, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned, the refugee and the immigrant – because we too were once the immigrant and because it is among these groups that we are invited into a real encounter with Jesus. What we have done for the least of these, we have done for Him.
Our identity as salt and light does not blind us to the challenges and dangers in our world, but instead reminds us that as we assess the challenges, our response must be moral, not fearful. Our faith calls us always to encounter our challenges in a moral, fair, caring and compassionate way. This is our way; this is who we are. We know, that as salt and light, we can balance our safety with our beliefs. These are not contradictory realities.
When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” He was reminding us of our call to live and spread His Gospel, to spread His light into the darkness of our times. It can’t wait for someone else. It can’t wait for another time.
We are all, here today, the light of the world. We shine that light through the devotion of those who come to daily Mass; through those who have reared their families and taught them to share a love of God and His church. We shine that light through the innocent faces of the beautiful young people joyfully coming to church with a smile on their face. We shine that light as we care for the needy of our community, in prisons and nursing homes and homeless shelters; we see that light shine in the face of the sick and the dying facing the final moments of their lives with tremendous faith. We are the salt and light that our world needs now. Our light shines through the bowl of hot soup offered on a cold day or the help offered shoveling out from another snow storm. It shines on 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.
So, what are we to do in our world today? Nothing more complicated than continuing to let our light shine 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, the refugee, immigrant and the imprisoned.
And as we heard from Isaiah, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”
My friends, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Let us be the light.
May the Lord give you peace.