5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
A teacher asked a boy to define salt. The pupil hesitated. Finally he stammered, “Salt is what makes French Fries taste good when you sprinkle it on.”
Food can be bland without a dash of salt, but with a saltshaker on practically every table, we tend to take salt for granted. However, in the ancient world, transporting salt from evaporating pools along the sea or excavating salt mines was difficult and expensive. Yet, across ages and cultures, humans have used mountains of salt to flavor meals and to preserve food from spoiling.
One of the world’s largest and most ancient salt mines is in Zipaquirá [Zeep-ah-key-RAH], Colombia, a short drive north from Bogotá. Indigenous peoples were already excavating that vast rock salt deposit centuries before the birth of Christ. But early in the 1900’s, the Catholic miners who toiled in the dark tunnels chiseled a rough cross and an altar from the solid rock salt. They transformed an excavated chamber into a small, candlelit chapel, where they prayed for safe return from their dangerous work each day. Now, after subsequent construction, those excavated salt mines over 650 feet underground have been transformed into Zipaquirá’s Cathedral of Salt where thousands gather for Mass each Sunday. Light dances across the salt walls and radiates a celestial glow through the translucent rock salt sculptures of saints and angels.
When Jesus tells his disciples in today’s Gospel that they are the “salt of the earth,” we can think of that cavernous cathedral in the salt mines. It is a church that exists because of the world’s desire for salt. Miners have extracted millions of tons of salt over the centuries from those deposits, and generations have used that salt for numerous ends. We as Christians are called to offer the world something it more deeply craves than salt. We offer the salt of faith drawn from the inexhaustible mine of divine grace.
Both salt and light are apt metaphors because both transform their surroundings. A minuscule dusting of salt flavors an entire dish; a small lamp makes a vast, inky cavern visible. But Christ warns his disciples not to let their salt lose its flavor. What does this mean? When can our salt lose its flavor?
First, as disciples of the Lord, we lose our flavor if we abandon the substance of our faith, if we neglect the teachings of the Church. What good is a Christian who does not believe in Christ’s teachings? What use is the Catholic who treats the deposit of faith like a flea-market, rummaging among the articles of faith and the commandments, picking a few and casting aside others? What use is the disciple who tosses aside belief Christ’s divinity, or the Blessed Virgin, or the saints; who neglects marriage, or the sanctity of life, or who no longer believes in the Sacraments? Such a person is like salt that has lost its flavor.
A fifth-century bishop put it bluntly:
Those who have been educated for the faith and in heavenly wisdom ought to remain faithful and steadfast and not “lose their taste.” If they forsake the faith and divine wisdom, they either plunge headlong into heresy or return to the folly of unbelievers . . . people of this sort, made tasteless by the devil’s treachery and having lost the grace of faith, are good for nothing. Though they once might have seasoned nonbelievers still foreign to the faith with the word of divine preaching, they instead showed themselves useless. (Chromatius, On Matthew, 18.4.1–2)
What a tragedy when the world turns to us, craving the saving salt of Christ, and we have nothing to offer!
Take care not to lose your flavor. If you leave leftovers in the fridge uncovered, they absorb the flavors of everything else nearby. A delicious cheesecake ends up tasting like onions. Gross! Take active steps to preserve your faith. Spend time with others who pray. Seek to read and watch content that nurtures your faith. Beware of passively absorbing the toxic odor of vice from the world that surrounds you.
Second, our salt loses flavor when we abandon our sense of apostolate, when we cease to share the Gospel in charity. As the Second Vatican Council taught:
The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in His saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ. . . . For the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate . . . the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself. (Apostolicam actuositatem, 2)
A Christian without a sense of apostolate is like a lamp concealed under a bushel basket. Do not be afraid to share the faith and let your light be seen! Venture out from beneath the basket of tepidness, fear, or embarrassment that holds you back! Spread the light of Christ by doing good. Flavor the world with the salt of your faith.
Fr. A. Francis HGN