Sunday, February 9, 2014

5th Sunday Ordinary Time - Matthew 5:13-16 - Salt and Light

Catholics are called to be the salt and light of the world.  Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel tells us we are to be the salt and the light before others, so they may see our good works and glorify God.  He warns us not to let our salt lose its taste, then: good for nothing, but to trample underfoot.

In the time of Jesus, the main fuel used in the cooking ovens was camel and donkey dung, of which they had an endless supply.  The dung was mixed with salt and formed into patties to make them burn more evenly.  On the bottom of the ovens a slab of salt was placed and the salt/dung ‘patties’ were placed on the slab.  The science behind this is that salt has catalytic properties to help the dung burn more evenly and effectively.  So, mixing it with the dung and placing them on a salt slab in the bottom of the ovens made the oven more efficient and productive for cooking and baking.

After a time though, the salt slab lost it’s ‘saltiness’ thereby becoming less efficient as a fuel source catalyst, so had to be replaced with fresh salt.  The old slab, now ‘tasteless’, was tossed out onto muddy places on the roads to help dry them up; making them passable. (I think with the weather here recently, we have an understanding of how that works.)

Salt is a catalyst which, is something that “provokes or speeds change or action.”  When Jesus calls us the Salt of the Earth, He is calling us to be a people who provoke or speed change in others, thereby motivating them to seek the Kingdom of God; turning away from sinfulness.  Our ‘salty-ness’ is the catalyst by which we bring people to Jesus.  Our salt fuels the fire within us that lights our heart’s desire, Jesus, for others to see.  We are known by our actions, our lives: our faithful discipleship in Christ Jesus.  By example of Christian living we show the world Jesus within us; bringing His light into the world. 

We are called to keep these fires burning evenly, and effectively, continually renewing our salt, so our fire of discipleship may burn brightly.  If our salt loses its flavor, if we become stale, our salt must be thrown away and replaced by new salt.  We are called to continually renew our ‘salty-ness’ to keep the fires of, “our hearts burning within us” warm and bright.

On the internet there is a debate being renewed on the subject of Religious Education and the best approach to passing on the faith to others.  Some advocate throwing out the present system of formal children’s religious education to be replaced by adult religious education.  The reasons for this approach are varied, ranging from children being considered not mature enough - to “they are too busy with their other educational requirements”.  Others favor a home schooling approach where the parents teach their children about the faith.  Some argue that parents themselves are not sufficiently formed in the faith to pass it on to their children – giving birth to the reason behind the need for adult faith formation.  Others believe that parents, in addition to not being well catechized, are too busy trying to make ends meet to have the time and/or energy to pass on the faith to children or others.  A third argument follows the line of “it’s the Church’s job to educate the children, leave parents out of it altogether.”

This debate has gone on over time, occasionally erupting in impassioned flames by these and other schools of thought.  When we look at some of the statistics (I know, a dirty word, that) we see some astonishing and sad realities.
  • 85% of children Confirmed this year will stop practicing the faith within 1 year (BTW – Confirmation is not Catholic Graduation)
  • 56% of people who identify themselves as Catholic rarely attend Mass more than twice a year (other than funerals or weddings)
  • 45% of all Catholics will receive ashes on Ash Wednesday (some things appeal to even those who do not regularly attend mass), but only. . .
  • 60% of those receiving ashes will abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent
  • 1 in 3 Americans are raised in the Catholic faith, but only 1 in 4 describe themselves as Catholic in adulthood.

There is an attrition rate of about 10% of Catholics leaving the Church, but more importantly, leaving the practice of their faith altogether.  This is a constant concern for the Church.  Those who say they are Catholic, but don’t attend Church or participate in any organized religion, make a rapid decent away from all faith practices.

Faith needs to be encouraged through lived experiences.  It is not an academic pursuit, but a way of living that is handed down to others by example, especially within families.  Faith thrives in support of family and in their faith community.  Families that live their faith and teach the faith to their children have a higher retention rate of practice; passing those good works and faith practices on generation after generation.  Communities too, that worship together as one, displaying the ideals of faith, hope and charity are more vibrant and attract more people to become disciples of Jesus, especially those from other faiths or no faith at all.

We all need to be the salt, the catalyst that ‘provokes and speeds the change and action’ in others – among our family, our children, our community of faithful and all the world - to live in discipleship of Christ Jesus.  The fire produced by our ‘salty-ness’ is the light by which others see the good actions of God in our lives.  We are called by Jesus himself - to be this catalyst that brings His light into the world.  We are to set His light on the hilltop of living faith for others to see.  It is by our lives in Christ that we bring others to God’s gift of salvation and the peace of His heavenly kingdom through His Son, Jesus Christ. ~Amen

Deacon Don Ron

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