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Becoming Salt and Light

At the beginning of the pandemic last year, there was a beautiful transition in our world from a “me” society to a “we” society. It was amazing to watch as people began to think outside of themselves and instead worried about others. True love and concern for neighbor ran rampant throughout our families, our cities, our countries- our world. Unfortunately, as the pandemic persisted and people began to feel weary of lockdowns, food shortages, masks, and being separated from those they loved, their patience with one another became noticeably short. Where salt and light surrounded us at one point, it now seems as if we struggle to be decent to one another again. As we continue to fight our way through the lingering effects and damage the lockdown caused, we may wonder how we can recapture this spirit that once infected everyone around us.

HOW ARE WE CALLED?

In Matthew’s Gospel we read, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 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.” (Matt 5:13-16)

SALT

Christians are called to live our faith in a way that glorifies the Lord. Everything we say and do should lead others to God. Christ tells us in Matthew’s Gospel that we are the salt of the earth. Salt is one of the most important (if not the most important!) minerals for civilization. Historically it has been used for preservation, healing, and even as currency. Our bodies not only crave it, but need it to function properly. Wars have been fought, friendships have been made, civilizations built, and religious customs have flourished all because of salt. When salt is so vital, it’s no wonder that Christ would call His followers the salt of the earth!

As the salt of the earth, we are called to “flavor” the world with Christ. What we say, what we do, and who we are should all glorify God and inspire others to seek out the Lord. Our “saltiness” is vital to making sure that God’s presence is felt by others. Of course being “salty” in today’s terms means something completely different than what Christ calls us to be. Often it is easier to be “salty” than to be the “salt of the earth” and yet God still calls us to the task.

LIGHT

With this call to be the “salt of the earth”, Christ also calls us to be the “light of the world”. He tells us that we are not to hide the light which burns within us and which reflects God’s love and life under a bushel basket. I would venture to say that in today’s world we have many “bushel baskets” under which we hide His light. Perhaps we are embarrassed to share our faith.  Maybe we worry about persecution, ridicule, or rejection. It might be that we think we are not knowledgeable enough or even faithful enough to spread our faith. Maybe the timing is never right or we simply want to keep our faith private.

Whatever our reasons for hiding Christ’s light, we must come to realize that as Christians we are not just called but are expected to shine His light brightly for all to see. Christ’s light which lives inside of us is not simply for our own benefit, but instead is meant to “shine before others” so that they have a clear path to God through us!

ANSWERING THE CALL- BECOMING SALT AND LIGHT

What does it take to become salt and light? While we know that our good deeds are not what get us to heaven, we do know that God calls us to live out our faith through doing good works. These acts of love and hope help others to see our Christian faith being fully lived out as God has asked us. Christ modeled this life for us. He was a man of action. He fed the hungry, taught the masses, healed the sick, forgave the sinner, He died upon a cross, and rose from the dead. His actions were vital to His ministry. Likewise, our actions are vital to making Christ known and felt in the world. If we are to call ourselves Christians then we must be heavily involved in doing good works.

At the beginning of the pandemic we saw that “good works” became the norm for most people. People rushed to help one another to secure food, medicine, or other needs. These good works were not just corporal (taking care of one another’s physical needs), which is sometimes the easier work to do. They also encompassed the spiritual works of mercy as well. We saw people extend kindness, mercy, forgiveness and openness despite differences in political ideology, religious practices, economic status, or any other qualifier. People were comforting others in their sorrow, counseling them in their doubt, and praying like crazy for one another. Life was no longer “us” versus “them”; it was simply “us”.

This is what God desires for His people. He wants us to be united as one and He knows that the fastest way to achieve this is through good works. When we stop fighting and start loving one another it follows that God’s love and goodness can be more readily seen and felt by others.

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

It is true that the pandemic has worn many of us down. It has broken spirits and for some contributed to hatefulness and anger towards others. There are still many people doing good in the world, but the last year and a half has also hardened many hearts that were open and giving at the beginning of the lockdown. If we are to follow Christ’s call to be salt and light in the world, we can’t allow our own hearts to be hardened by the overwhelming distress the virus and the lockdown have caused us. Instead we must continue to look out for the needs of others. We must attend to both the physical and spiritual needs of our neighbors even when it is difficult.

The pandemic took so much away from all of us… but it can never take away Christ’s light shining through us. Only we can hide it away. God tells us that He desires good and holy work from us. Through these good works His light shines brightly and draws others into a relationship with Him. If we want to see a change in our world, if we want peace, we must be the salt and light that Christ has called us to be. By living out our Christian faith in love and good deeds, we can lead others to Him- the One who brings ultimate peace and healing.

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Faith Formation Mass

Mass, How I’ve Missed You

Mass How I've Missed You

I went to Mass for the first time in three months recently. Masks were on, every other pew was strategically roped off, parishioners obediently sat six feet apart. Meanwhile, hymnal boxes sat empty, holy water had been replaced with hand sanitizer, and not one paper bulletin could be found. 

I prayed quietly for a few minutes before I noticed the elderly lady two rows in front of me looking around to make sure no one saw her lower her mask to gasp for fresh air. Key West is not the place you want to be sitting with something covering your face for an hour in sweltering heat and humidity. I felt her pain.

Even with the church being only a quarter of the way full, it was eerily silent. No hushed salutations from one family to the next or chatter from fidgety children as one might expect on a typical Sunday morning. In fact, there were no small children present at all, including my own. 

After several prolonged moments of silently observing the sterile basilica, bells began to toll. It was time to begin. The organist welcomed in the masked lectors and altar servers, followed by the priest from the side of the sanctuary. She belted out approximately one verse of the opening hymn before my vision blurred with hot tears. It had been too long. 

There’s a lot to be learned from a global pandemic that leaves the whole world cooped up for months on end. Along with so many things, one revelation became abundantly clear: Mass is underappreciated.

The Church is a People, Not a Building.

When the quarantine began, my friends on social media bemoaned not being able to worship together. I shared in their heartache. Coming together as a community to praise, give thanks, and petition the Lord at the start of each week is vital for believers. It’s as necessary as taking a shower in the morning or doing the dishes in the evening. 

Not being able to do these things in a particularly tense period only makes the uncertainty of current events all the scarier.

Like all things that people take for granted, I didn’t realize how good it was to be able to go to church until I no longer could. 

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had been lulled into a drunken state of complacency over the past thirty years. One in which being able to bear witness to my faith every Sunday in the safety of my parish walls had left me spoiled and lazy. 

If there was one silver lining to be found in being forced to spend Sundays at home, though, it was getting the opportunity to pause and consider the heart of what we as Christians truly believe. We don’t congregate for social purposes. We don’t do it for entertainment or investment opportunities or personal gain. We do it to maintain a relationship with God. And you don’t need a building to do that.

By taking the only way I knew how to worship away, the pandemic left me with no choice but to be more intentional with how I was going to keep Sunday holy, or abandon it altogether. The decision was clear, but not easy.

How would I worship Christ without a priest holding my hand every step of the way? What would motivate me to sing loudly, pray earnestly, or dress for the Lord when my neighbors weren’t there to bear witness to it? 

Social distancing had presented a big, shiny mirror up to my heart and the reflection staring back at me wasn’t always pretty. 

We are Physical Beings. Our Worship Should Be, Too.

The quarantine had proven that I didn’t need a building to worship God, but it sure does help. 

Gathering my family together to pray the rosary, watch Mass online, or read the Bible was fruitful in so many ways. Striving to deliberately keep Sundays sacred is beautiful, but it made me miss the concrete reminders of my faith that I can only find in a church all the more.

It brought to mind the time a friend who’d fallen away from the Church questioned why Catholic churches insist on being so ornate. 

“Are the elaborate stain-glassed windows, gold chalices, and expensive statues really necessary? Wouldn’t God be happier with people worshipping in a simple building and using the extra money to help someone instead?” His question was sincere, but misguided.

What he didn’t realize was that all of those “extra” things help far more people on a weekly basis than the money used to buy them would’ve been able to had they been spent on food or clothing for the needy. Those beautiful, elaborate decorations not only bring glory to God, but they help remind countless people of him constantly when they are in his presence. Each statue, window, symbol, and image draw people’s short attention spans back to the reason they came to church in the first place: Jesus. 

Are these elements essential to encounter the Risen Lord? No. Are they beneficial? Absolutely.

Mass engages all five of the senses; that’s not a coincidence. Humans are physical beings as much as we are spiritual. It’s as necessary as ever that we worship as such.

Celebrating Christ in the living room had been nice, but I needed more. I want to smell the incense, taste the bread and wine, see the beautiful images that lift my mind to heaven. I need to feel my neighbor’s hand at the sign of peace, hear the uplifting music, and kneel in adoration before the Eucharist. None of these things are accidental. It’s the way God intended worship to be: spiritual and physical.

These are experiences that we simply cannot have alone in our living rooms day in and day out. They can only be found in Mass.

If that’s not essential, what is?