Readings (Year A):
Isaiah 58:7 – 10
Psalms 112:4 – 5, 6 – 7, 8 – 9
1 Corinthian 2:1 – 5
Matthew 5:13 – 16
Reflection: Remember what it means to be salt and light
Matthew 5:13-16 inspired my vocation. As a young adult pursuing my undergraduate degree at a Jesuit university, and as an intern in campus ministry, I often heard, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.” Initially, I related these words to Jesus’ profession, “I am the light of the world.” It was clear that something about me represented Jesus. At the time I believed that to embody salt and light was to spread love and joy, and I still believe there is truth to this. But when I began graduate studies, I realized that being salt and light was directly related to justice. My naïve comprehension of my vocation evolved, and I became a faith-based community organizer.
It may be surprising that salt and light are related to justice. as we often hear this phrase in relation to evangelization. However, this call to be salt and light is placed at the beginning of the Beatitudes, when Jesus calls us to promote harmony, freedom, and peacemaking. We learn from Psalm 112 that the bearer of light is a just person. The passage from Isaiah illuminates practices of a just person. To embody light is to be righteous, or as it translates from Hebrew, just, or a liberator from oppression, which requires self-giving, clothing, sheltering, embracing, and truthful benevolent speech.
In my work, I often struggle to hold in tension the truth that the faithful are called to be salt and light, with the fact that injustice abounds, and darkness feels consuming. At times I feel hopeless, wondering, have I lost my saltiness? Have the faithful lost their taste? Are we no longer able to shine? I lament, crying out to God, “Where are you? What about the promises you made to us?” The author of Isaiah 58 professes in the face of injustice, “you shall cry for help, and the Lord will say: Here I am!”
As my belief that God is always present waned, ten high school interns walked into my life and reminded me how to be salt and light. As Psalm 112 commanded, these young women are steadfast, trusting that the just world they envision will exist. They are courageous in the face of systemic injustice, always speaking truth to power and ensuring that their words lead to a peaceful and inclusive world. Even when they fear they are not equipped with knowledge, eloquence or resources, they boldly act for justice, just as the passage from Isaiah states. They understand that righteousness begins with a heart oriented toward God, but also requires “demonstration of Spirit and power,” as Paul notes.
Weeks ago, one intern spoke at a synodal gathering of Jesuit works. She stood before a room of adults, denouncing injustice and calling for an inclusive and active church. I watched in awe as she appeared as a light on a lampstand, illuminating the room and energizing spirits for justice. She was salt exemplifying, “I will no longer be complacent with corruption. I am preserving and fertilizing the good for all to enjoy.” In her words and through her actions, she has restored our community of salty saints.
My deepest prayer is that we remember what it means to be salt and light as we near the Lenten season. When we feel hopelessness, darkness, or loss of our taste, we keep our gaze transfixed on God and remain open and aware of our faithful youth, prophetic examples in our world with a keen sense of how to be salt and light!