Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 9, 2014
Isaiah 58:7-10; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16

Salt and Light are two images Jesus uses to describe his followers in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. These symbol’s power is not as potent as when they were starkly transparent although they remain highly uplifting. We take for granted the luxurious items that are part of our standard of living. It was only 100 years ago that prosperous cities began to commercially wire their building for electricity and light. Farms, undeveloped cities, and rural areas, were mostly in darkness except for gas lamps and candles. Prior to that, the sun and the moon ruled the skies and dictated the pace of life, leisure, and work. When dusk came about, work ceased. Those with candles could study, read books, balance checkbooks, and write correspondences. Light was a commodity among the privileged that meant you had a small amount of leisure time in your day. Everyone knew those who had sufficient light because it was clearly visible. Christians are called by Jesus to be lights in the darkness, viewable from all over the world, to shine forth into the dark recesses of human hearts.

As immediate access to light came about through the invention of electricity, so did other novelties like refrigeration, which preserved food whole scale without contamination. For most of human history, salt was the life-saving disinfecting preservative. Salt is unique in that it is the only mineral that people eat. Every cell in our body is bathed in a salt solution and the body will not function properly unless the ration of salt to water in maintained in the bloodstream. As biblical figures like the authors of Leviticus and Numbers knew salt was vital to all life. They built Salt Covenants with God as a show of strength, purity, endurance, and loyalty, while remaining incorruptible. We have all met a person that we call “Salt of the Earth” because his or her goodness is always genuine and visible. They stay above the fray.

Jesus had these rich metaphors in mind when he addressed his followers. He knew it would be a challenge for them to live among non-believers and remain pure, but as these elements are essential for life, Jesus bolstered their self-image and self-worth. The lessons of the Gospel are difficult to follow and yet revolutionary. Jesus may have given them a symbolic reference to help them remain faithful to his teachings in light of the subtle and overt pressures placed on them as they are dispersed throughout the world, just as rays of light and sprinkles of salt are distributed. The world needs Christians. The world needs to always see people who radiate goodness and to maintain the healthy balance of life. Not only do we provide others with essential hope in life, we provide a spice that attracts many.

If salt keeps food seasoned, what preserves salt? - Other grains of salt. If lights are to be seen, how can they be made visible? By assembling them with other lights. Jesus introduces a paradox, we must be gathered together, so we can be sent. Salt loses its taste if it is distributed among other minerals (that is, if we are placed in a world with sin and deceit and we begin to act like others); lights are diminished if they are sporadically placed (that is, if we turn away from the gospel values and obscure the container that holds the flame.) Jesus serves this as a warning for disciples to be on their guard: to be in the world, but not of it. He needs us to come together often so we can be strengthened by his words and Body and Blood, so we can be refreshed to shine brightly before us. Though we are called from many stations in life, we must work hard to come together in unity to assist one another. We can give strength to someone who is sent among others who do not respect the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that everyone deserves.

How do we help others retain their lightness and seasoning? We become people for and with others. Isaiah gives us a blueprint when he says: share bread with the hungry (just about everyone I know is starving for a fuller relationship with Christ), shelter the oppressed (which we are learning about comes in many ways, especially bullying and destructive policies, especially to minority populations), clothe the naked (because we strip human dignity away from so many and snuff the spirit out of their dreams), and do not turn your back on your own (because many feel isolated, betrayed, rejected, or merely feel unwelcome.) When we heed these words, says Isaiah and Jesus, our light will break forth like the dawn and our wound shall quickly be healed. When we become a people who care for others and choose to be with them in their suffering, God’s power and Spirit radiates through us, as we walk onwards and upward towards the new day God promises. The gloom that permeates the land shall become like the midday. All will be bright and beautiful.

I have one addition to make to the words of Jesus though. From experience I know that some people are attracted to savory and salty foods, like potato chips or cheese platters, but others are drawn to sugary sweets, especially chocolates. Without salt or sugar, food is bland and undesirable. Without savory or sweet people, life is boring. Yes, of course, you are already brilliant lights for the world that preserves, disinfects, and seasons all the areas of life where you find yourselves. You do a remarkable job. Be known also for your sweetness and your lightness of being. Care for one another with a cheerful heart; put aside petty divisions and selfish pride and strive for unity; enjoy your life and have fun with those you did not previously think possible. Delight in those who are around you. Your sweetness will be contagious and will cause others to look at you curiously and yearn for what you possess. Live it up. Spice up your life. Live well. Life has enough challenges, but sprinkle your light and salt with your sweetness and you will laugh often with people who need to laugh. Laugh as often as you breathe because laughter is the spark of the soul.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: King Solomon and the elders of Israel led the liturgical rite to commemorate the presence of the ark on Mount Zion. Slaughters, ceremonies, and celebrations were made in honor of the Lord’s presence to Israel. A cloud covered the ark and the Lord said he was well pleased.  Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord and he spoke gratefully of his humble disbelief that the God of heaven has come to dwell among them. He petitioned the Lord to always watch over them and grace them with his blessings. The Queen of Sheba, having heard of Solomon’s fame, came to test him with subtle questions, but she quickly found out that everything said about him was true. She therefore lavished him with gifts to testify to his wisdom. When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart to strange gods, and his heart was not entirely with the Lord. He built high places to honor the gods of his foreign wives and the Lord God became angry with him. The Lord promised to tear about the kingdom of his sons. While splitting it apart, he will favor one tribe, which the Lord has chosen. Jeroboam left Jerusalem and met the prophet Ahijah, who tore his cloak into twelve pieces. Ten of the tribes would fight against the house of David with Israel leading the charge. Jeroboam led the people to revolt against Rehoboam, mater of Judah. The destruction of the kingdom was assured.

Gospel: After Jesus crossed the sea, people recognized him and brought their sick and diseased to be healed by him. Many touched the tassel of his cloak and they were healed.  Jerusalem-based Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating without first washing his hands. He retorts that they have nullified the word of God in favor of their traditions that they have handed on. They have forgotten the commandments that come from God. Jesus continued by saying that nothing that enters one from the outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within a person from one’s heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, and folly. Going undercover, a Greek Syrophoenician woman noticed Jesus and begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. After initially resisting, Jesus healed the woman’s daughter because of her great faith. Jesus went into the Decapolis and was met by a man with a speech impediment. After putting his fingers into the man’s ears and spitting, Jesus cried, “Be opened.” The man spoke clearly afterwards. When a great crowd gathered around Jesus, he made them sit down because his heart was moved with pity. He took seven loaves of bread and distributed them to the four thousand people gathered around him. There was plenty to eat and many fragments were left over.

Saints of the Week

February 10: Scholastica (480-543) was the twin sister of Benedict, founder of Western monasticism. She is the patroness of Benedictine nuns. She was buried in her brother's tomb; they died relatively close to one another.

February 11: Our Lady of Lourdes is remembered because between February 11 and July 16, 1858, Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in a cave near Lourdes, France eighteen times. The site remains one of the largest pilgrim destinations. Many find healing in the waters of the grotto during the spring.

February 14: Cyril, monk, and Methodius, bishop (Ninth Century), were brothers who were born in Thessalonica, Greece. They became missionaries after they ended careers in teaching and government work. They moved to Ukraine and Moravia, a place between the Byzantium and Germanic peoples. Cyril (Constantine) created Slavonic alphabet so the liturgy and scriptures could be available to them. Cyril died during a visit to Rome and Methodius became a bishop and returned to Moravia.

February 15: Claude La Colombiere, S.J., religious (1641-1682), was a Jesuit missionary, ascetical writer, and confessor to Margaret Mary Alocoque at the Visitation Convent at Paray La Monial. As a Jesuit, he vowed to live strictly according to the Jesuit Constitutions to achieve utmost perfection. Together, they began a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Jan. 9, 1574: Fr. Jasper Haywood died at Naples. He was superior of the English mission. As a boy he was one of the pages of honor to the Princess Elizabeth. After a brilliant career at Oxford, he renounced his fellowship and entered the Society in Rome in 1570. An able Hebrew scholar and theologians, he was for two years professor in the Roman College.
·      Jan. 10, 1581: Queen Elizabeth signed the fifth Penal Statute in England inflicting heavy fines and imprisonment on all who harbored Jesuits and Seminary priests.
·      Jan 10, 1567. Two Jesuits arrived in Havana, Cuba, as a base for evangelization.
·      Jan 11, 1573. At Milan, St Charles Borromeo founded a college (the Brera) and placed it under the care of the Society.
·      Jan 12, 1544. Xavier wrote a long letter on his apostolic labors, saying he wished to visit all the universities of Europe in search of laborers for our Lord's vineyard. The letter was widely circulated and very influential.
·      Jan 13, 1547. At the Council of Trent, Fr. James Laynez, as a papal theologian, defended the Catholic doctrine on the sacraments in a learned three-hour discourse.
·      Jan 14, 1989. The death of John Ford SJ, moral theologian and teacher at Weston College and Boston College. He served on the papal commission on birth control.

·      Jan 15, 1955. The death of Daniel Lord SJ, popular writer, national director of the Sodality, founder of the Summer School of Catholic Action, and editor of The Queen's Work.