In the Beatitudes we heard last week, Jesus spells out the standard of holiness expected of those whose lives are conformed to his life. This is very great: far beyond what we are capable of achieving on our own. In the Beatitudes too Jesus speaks of what is promised to those who belong to him. Their rewards, their happiness, he says, also will be very great. Now today we hear what follows in the Sermon on the Mount: two sayings about Salt and Light. Here Jesus makes clear what is the mission, the vocation, the task and responsibility of those who live according to the Beatitudes. This also is very great.
The blessings promised by Jesus are to spread throughout the whole world, and to the whole of humanity, through his disciples. This is entirely in accordance with the way God has acted throughout salvation history. Think of how God’s blessing came originally through the one man Noah, with his family; then through the one man Abraham; then through the children of Israel, and even just the tribe of Judah. Who were they among all the many nations of the earth? Yet, according to the dispositions of Divine Providence, God reaches out to the many through the few. So with Jesus. He gathers to himself just twelve disciples; then he speaks to a crowd of insignificant nobodies on a hillside in a remote Roman Province; and through them he speaks to us. Who are we? Nothing and nobody. No, worse than that, we are sinners. Yet also: by our baptism we are the children of God; we are Temples of the Holy Spirit; we have been made one with Jesus in his mystical Body. So today Jesus entrusts to us a tremendous power for good. We, who are the heirs of the Kingdom of heaven: we are to share actively in the mission of Jesus to bring salvation to the whole world.
You are the salt of the earth. Even today we can understand something of this metaphor. We know that a little bit of salt gives savour to a large amount of otherwise tasteless food. Salt preserves meat from corruption. Used appropriately, salt purifies and cleanses. But also: according to the Old Testament law, a little salt was to be added to sacrifices, whether of animals or of cereal (Lv 2:13; Ezk 43:24). So salt can be taken as a symbol of sanctification. In addition: in the thought world of the New Testament, salt symbolises wisdom. We then, who are so few, so apparently powerless, such frail and flawed instruments: we are to preserve our world from corruption; we are to save it from folly; we are to sanctify it; we are to make it a fit sacrifice to God.
And then immediately Jesus issues a dire warning. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? Having had such blessings bestowed on us; such high ideals held out to us; such a noble task entrusted to us: what if we then turn aside, and become merely worldly again? What if we retain the name, but not the reality of Christian? What if we allow ourselves to lose our love for Jesus, and become separated from him through our own fault? What if our personal conduct becomes a living contradiction of the Gospel, and we land up acting actually as a counter witness? Of course while life lasts there is always the chance for repentance and conversion, thank God: but still the stakes are very high. If we persist in our infidelity, we must expect to be treated finally as we have richly deserved.
You are the light of the world. Of course this light is not our own, but the light of Jesus in us. I am the light of the world, Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel (Jn 8:12). So St. Paul cried out to the Galatians that it was no longer he who was living, but Christ who lived in him (Gal 2:20). So we ask that our own lives may become a radiance of the life of Jesus. We pray that Jesus may take possession of us so completely, and dwell in us so fully, that through us the divine light may shine out in our world.
Unfortunately nowadays, and ever increasingly, we are tempted to keep our heads down, to feel embarrassed about our faith, not to speak of it; silently to accept the standards of our post Christian society, even though often enough these are mere madness and folly, and sometimes real wickedness. So through fear, and perhaps a bit through sloth also, and through the desire to be left in peace to live a comfortable and untroubled life, we are tempted to hide our light under a tub. But no! Today Jesus calls us to be Salt and Light. This calls for great courage, and also for prudence. Only though the gift of prudence can we know when to speak, and when to remain silent; when to act manifestly, and when to act in secret. In any case we may be certain that we can only fulfil our vocation if we remain resolutely united with Jesus. This means we have to pray a lot. We have to read God’s holy word frequently, and come often to the Sacraments. It also means we have to strive to live consistently according to the Beatitudes: poor in spirit and pure in heart; chaste, merciful, gentle, peacemaking; with and in Jesus, generous, honest, truthful, just.
After this Mass I’m proposing to speak to our student guests about Monastic life, and its place in the Church. Let me just point now to the monastery as an example of what the whole Church has to be: a City set on a hill. Its ultimate purpose is to give glory to God. Yet also it exists in order to call down the blessings of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, on the Church and the world. The life lived here is not in any way aggressive or intrusive. We make no attempt to force people to share our faith. Yet we pray for all: ultimately that they may be saved.
We pray for our fellow Christians, that they may become truly holy. We pray for those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake: that they may find relief, and consolation, and also that they may receive in full measure their heavenly reward. And we pray for the spread of the Gospel, and the coming of the reign of Jesus: that in all things God may be glorified.