Called to be Salt and Light

Posted on January 30, 2023 by Published by

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

—Matthew 5:14-16

Were you afraid of the dark as a child? Are there little ones (or even “grown-ups”) in your life who can’t stand being left in a room with no lights?

If so, you might be happy to know that science now has some insights to offer.

Centuries and millennia ago, our ancestors lived in a world in which darkness was a time when people were especially vulnerable. In order to stay safe outside of the small ring of light that a fire or, later, a lamp might provide, human beings developed what would become an innate fear of the dark. It’s perfectly reasonable, if we stop and think about what was at stake. While there have been numerous studies and articles about this in the last decade, science writer Josh Hrala summed things up in an article for “Our ancestors were constantly on the look-out for predators that wanted nothing more than to chow down on human sandwiches. To make that even scarier, most of these predators hunted at night — a time of day when we are especially vulnerable to attack because of our relatively poor eyesight.” He continues, “Over the years, this nightly fear became instinctual, and we still experience it today as a form of mild anxiety.”

This danger of darkness remained in force until the modern era when streetlights and flood lights began to push away the darkness more effectively than anything that we ever had before. But there still remains, in each of us, a certain fear of what may be lurking just beyond the reach of the light or hiding in the shadows.

Ultimately, fear of the dark is a fear of the unknown.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus uses the image of salt and light to remind his followers of what they — we — are called to be in and for the world. Part of this means that we are called to live lives that, like salt and light, enhance the “flavor” of the world and dispel the darkness of fear and doubt.

We can see what this looks like when we think of so many of the great saints of our faith tradition. Saint Francis of Assisi certainly embodied this ideal in his willingness to commit his life wholeheartedly to living out the demands of Gospel poverty and joy in an age when the Church was becoming more and more mired in bureaucracy and the quest for power. With his band of “Lesser Brothers,” the light of Francis’ faith and the “salt” of his joy brightened and enhanced the world in which he lived.

At the heart of Jesus’ message and Francis’ mission is love.

Certainly, this means our experience of God’s love and our love for God. But, on a more practical level, this means the love that we show to one another. The first reading this Sunday brings this point home, as we hear these words from the Prophet Isaiah:

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.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…
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.

This is what love looks like and when we reflect on all of the acts of mercy Isaiah describes, we can see how these good works — expressions of our love — can help drive away the ugliness, fear, and, yes, darkness that brings grief, despair, and death into the world.

In the end, the liturgy this Sunday is reminding us that we don’t have to be afraid of the dark any longer. If we have love — and live that love — then the light of Christ that we carry within us will drive away the darkness of fear and sadness.

—Br. Silas Henderson, S.D.S.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Lectionary 73


A Prayer for the Faith the Overcomes All

O Lord,
grant us faith,
the faith that removes the mask from the world
and manifests God in all things;
the faith that enables everything to be seen
in another light:
that shows us the greatness of God
and lets us see our own littleness;
that shows us Christ
where our eyes see only a poor person;
that shows us the Savior
where we feel only pain.

O Lord,
grant us the faith
that inspires us to undertake
everything that God wants
without hesitation,
without shame,
without fear,
and without ever retreating;
that faith that fears
neither danger, nor sorrow, nor death;
the faith that knows how to go through life
with calm, peace, and profound joy,
and that makes the soul completely indifferent
to everything that is not you. Amen.

—from the writings of Saint Charles de Foucauld

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