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  • Writer's pictureFather Puddleglum

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A

In the summer of 2011 I had the opportunity to travel to Madrid for World Youth Day – a gathering of young Catholics from around the world. It was an incredible experience. While in Spain I was able to tour a couple other cities besides Madrid, including Toledo. The cathedral in Toledo was possibly the most ornate church I had ever seen. I had never seen anything like it. Walking around, I stopped to pray at various locations in the building. I was silent and awestruck by the beauty surrounding me. This was an encounter with God through beauty that left me wanting more. This is what good art does: it gives us a taste of Heaven that leaves us thirsting for more.

If you travel to Europe you will find many ornate and beautiful churches. And it’s not just the churches that are beautiful. The other buildings in the cities are beautiful as well. If you go to Rome you will stumble upon one gorgeous piazza after another. Entire cities were designed not just to be pragmatic and easy to navigate. They were designed to be beautiful.

The Church, the Catholic Faith in most of Europe is currently waning. Fewer and fewer people practice their faith or even identify as Catholics. It is sad and tragic to see such a sharp decline because Christianity built Europe. Christianity built western civilization. It was Christianity that produced the beautiful art. Christianity produced the timeless literature that we still cherish. Christianity produced the music that has touched the hearts and souls of so many. Christians were the ones who made society beautiful. Christians weren’t just consumers of culture. They were its creators.

Jesus calls us to be salt, light, and a city on a hill in order that people might see our works and give glory to the Father. There is much one could say about each of these images but I want to focus on salt for this homily. There are three primary qualities of salt: it gives flavor, it preserves, and it makes one thirsty.

Salt adds flavor. We must understand that discipleship is not merely about being morally upright, doing good and avoiding evil. Part of the Christian vocation is to “raise the level of flavor of every human activity and thus transform it. What is of itself insipid can become delightful if seasoned with joy” (Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word volume I by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, 205). The churches, streets, and cities of Europe could have been purely utilitarian with no regard for beauty. But Christians see the value of beauty because it is an expression of the divine. We are called to make the world beautiful around us, to be that flavor of society, to bring beauty and joy even to the humdrum and mundane.

Salt preserves. Salt acted as a preservative of food in the ancient world. Beautiful and holy things preserve humanity because beauty anchors the human heart in what lies beyond this world. Humanity becomes corrupted and rotten when we forget that we are only passing through this world, when we forget that we were made for more. It is no coincidence that by and large as the culture has become less and less Christian our world has become more ugly. Buildings nowadays are usually built to be purely pragmatic with little regard for aesthetics. If you don’t believe me walk around town. All of the beautiful buildings are the old ones. They are from a more Christian period of history. When a culture and society forgets its Christian roots it becomes corrupted. This is reflected in our artwork and architecture. We act as salt that preserves beauty in the world when we live not as citizens of this world but citizens of Heaven, passing through with our hearts anchored in Heaven. We are tasked with creating and preserving beauty and joy in this world.

Furthermore, salt makes one thirsty. When an encounter with beauty takes place there is a sense of longing and wanting. When we encounter a beautiful work of art or a captivating song we are given a taste of the world to come. But this experience of the beautiful comes to a close and we are left wanting more. Just as salt makes us thirsty for water, beauty makes us thirsty for God Who is the source of beauty. By acting as the salt of the world we create a thirst for the divine.

So we must ask ourselves: am I living up the calling to be the salt and the light of the world? Some think that to be holy is to reject the world entirely and live as an island by surrounding ourselves with like-minded people. As long as we stay clear of the dirty and sinful world and just pray more, then we will be saints. But salt and light are not creatures for their own sake. They are made for other things. You don’t buy salt to leave it in the pantry. You don’t buy a light bulb and never use it. We are tasked with being the seasoning of our world and providing light where there is darkness. We must be in the world and not of the world.

On the other end of the spectrum we must not be so inundated with the world that we are unmoored from the Gospel. To live out the vocation of being salt and light we must be rooted and anchored in the Gospel. We cannot be salt or light if we are not living in accord with the laws and teachings of God given to us through His Church. If we are not rooted in Jesus and the Gospel then what influence can we really have on our culture? We cannot. But, again, we are called to be more than just morally upright people. We are called to influence and shape our culture.

Do my life and my actions bring beauty and joy into the world? Too many of us act merely as consumers of culture rather than creators of culture. We allow the world to shape us rather than us shape the world. How do we act as salt and light? How are we shaping the world by being instruments of joy and beauty? There is no one answer to this question. It will take a different expression for everyone. But it is a question we must ask ourselves again, and again, and again.

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