09 February 2014

Stay salty and bright!

5th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA


Jesus states the obvious, “A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.” It might be difficult to reach. Obscured by clouds on occasion. Or nearly impregnable to a siege. But it can't be hidden. It sits there among the rocks and trees for all to see. Looking up, for all to see. What do we see when we look at the city? Walls, gates, traffic, thriving markets, lots of people. We might see security, comfort. Or crime and filth. Crowded streets and tenements. Strangers, foreigners, friends. Whatever we see, we see b/c the city cannot be hidden. Its presence dominates, overwhelms – a living thing made from dead stone. Jesus tells us that the mountaintop city cannot be hidden nor can our good works. Like that city, our works for the greater glory of God must be monumental, stone-solid, unavoidable to even the most disinterested tourist. Like that city, our witness to the Father's mercy must be visible to the countryside from miles away; a landmark for both pilgrims and sinners alike. If not, then we are “no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Do your words and deeds help to build God's unhideable city on the hill?

Jesus' admonition to his disciples – stay salty and don't hide your light – is more than a moral lesson or a quick tip for pastoral effectiveness. Staying salty and bright is The Way that we followers of Christ work out our salvation and lead others to theirs. This is why Jesus says that tasteless salt is to be thrown out and trampled on. Salt that cannot season has lost its purpose, lost its usefulness and keeping it around is a sentimental waste of space. What use is dry water or cold fire? What use is a light hidden under a basket? If it can't shine and show the way to the lost, then it's a waste. Our words and deeds spoken and done for the greater glory of God are to be spoken and done in the brightness of the day, in the direct light of the noonday sun for all to see. Not hidden. Not done in darkness. Not whispered or mumbled. But boldly, loudly spoken and done without hesitation or ambiguity, without recourse to the “sublimity of words” or the seductions of worldly wisdom. We work out our salvation and bring others to theirs by speaking and acting plainly for the glory of God so that the Good News of His mercy shines out from that unhideable city on the hill.

What does “speaking and acting plainly for the glory of God” mean in 2014 A.D.? It means exactly what it meant in 56 A.D. when Paul confesses to the Corinthians that he was “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” To know nothing but Christ crucified means to frame your mind, your heart, and your soul with the undeniable and enduring truth that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for your salvation and rose from the dead so that you too might be raised on the last day. To know nothing but Christ crucified means that your every act, every word, every thought is motivated by nothing else but the compulsive drive to behave, speak, and think according to the Good News Christ came among us to preach. To know nothing but Christ crucified means that you accept as your only mission the imperative to bear witness to all so that all might find their peace in Christ. Is this difficult task? Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling. . .” If Paul was weak, afraid, and trembling while bearing witness to his brothers and sisters, then we should expect nothing less for ourselves as we bear witness to Christ in a world ruled by the Enemy. Thus, Jesus tells us to stay salty and bright.

How do we do that? How do we stay salty and bright while bearing witness to the Good News? There's a much overused word that we Christians need to reclaim from our corrupted culture. That word is “authenticity.” Being authentic means to be real, to be honest, transparent. Being authentic invokes truthfulness, goodness, and beauty. We want authentic art work, authentic music, authentic liturgy. But the definition we want here is “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features.” Christ is the original. We are charged with reproducing his essential features so that our witness is “authentic.” No fakes. No forgeries. No knockoffs. Just the real deal, full-fat, 100% guaranteed, 24kt gold Gospel witness. This means – at minimum – that we believe the Gospel and live that belief. We lose our saltiness and our brightness when we allow the wisdom of the world creep into our hearts and minds. It starts small. Payback for an insult. Tit for tat. Waiting to forgive until an apology is forthcoming. Praying and giving to be seen. Failing to give God thanks for His blessings. Small things peck away at our authenticity until there's nothing left but our broken word. Reproduce the original and your authenticity will never be in doubt. 
Let's talk practically. First, the best witness is a credible witness, and nothing helps one's credibility more than a clear conscience. Go to confession! Second, a good witness will have no daylight shining btw her words and deeds: hypocrisy kills credibility, say and do what Christ said and did. Third, a good witness will keep the whole truth in mind and not just the facts. Facts only make sense within the larger truth. Fourth, a good witness will speak and behave plainly, without pretense or any effort at drawing attention to himself. Christ crucified is the object of our testimony not our needy egos. Fifth, a good witness loves, hopes, and trusts. She loves God and His creatures; hopes in the resurrection and life eternal; and trusts that God's promises have been fulfilled. Her love, hope, and trust will be painfully evident in her words and deeds. And finally, a good witness knows that he is never alone in bearing witness. Weakness, fear, and trembling might come along for the ride, but so does the Holy Spirit, the company of saints, the Church on earth, and every witness-bearing soul who bears witness to God's mercy. If you are free in Christ, then you are free to speak and act in his name for your salvation and the salvation of the world. 
That unhideable city on the hill sits there as a landmark, a point of destination. It's a place we travel toward in hopes of food, shelter, fellowship. Our good works, our good witness serves the same purpose. Right where you are – at home, school, work, out shopping – right there is someone watching, waiting to hear that their sins are forgiven and that there is a place for them among the saints. By your words and deeds show them – show everyone – what it's like to be freed by Christ!

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  1. It started out a bit rocky - seemed forced - but I was grinning by the end of the first paragraph, recognizing one of my favorite "Fr. Philip Signature Styles!" Solid second paragraph. I thoroughly enjoyed the third paragraph - well crafted and begging to be read out loud. Then the fourth paragraph . . . wow! . . . which led perfectly into the practical and sensible advice given in the fifth paragraph. And then you sealed the deal with a kick-butt final paragraph!

    So, I think you might say that I liked this one! Guess the Holy Spirit found a way into your hard head :-). Thanks.

    1. Glad you like it. I had a noon Mass today, so I didn't have all day to fuss over it. I think that 6pm Mass time-slot is tempting my procrastination gene, thus making recent homilies less than ideal.