Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, February 9, 2014 "Salt and Light", Fr. Ken Hughes SJ


St. Mary of the Angels     Sunday OT 5 A     2/9/14

Isaiah 58.7-17;  I Corinthians 2.1-5;  Matthew 5.13-16


My Brothers and Sisters,


This past week I googled Amazon.Com to search for books on spirituality. As you might expect, I found listed some of the old classics like “The Desert Fathers,” “The Imitation of Christ,” “The Cloud of Unknowing,” and also some more modern books by well known Catholic writers such as Henri Nouwen,  Richard Rohr, Ronald Rollheiser.  But I also came across many, many more titles such as:


- “Essential Spirituality: The Seven Central Practices to Awaken Heart and Mind.” 

- “The Heart of Abundance: A Simple Guide to Appreciating and Enjoying Life.”

- “A Spirituality of Fundraising?” 

- “Four Ways to Master Yourself: Everyone Can Achieve Their Desires,” 

- “The Power Plan: Master the Law of Attraction in Six Simple Steps.” 

- “The Seven Spiritual Habits That Will Change Your Life Forever.”

- “The Four Arguments: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom,”

- “E-Square: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Reality.”

And even: - “The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality.”


As you listened to these titles did you notice that they share three things in common?


  1. They all focus on ME: my power, my self-acceptance, my happiness, my success.  They are about me, me, me!

  2. They are about MY action – what I have to do to achieve to be happy and fulfilled, and

  3. So many have numbers in them:  There are:

    7 central practices,

    4 ways to master,

    6 simple steps,

          7 spiritual habits,

          4 arguments, and

          9 do-it-yourself experiments.


How we love numbers and what they promise!  (Like losing 20 lbs. in 30 days!)  These so-called spirituality books seem to imply that we all can become more spiritual in so many days if we just follow faithfully these relatively few steps or rules.


But in the Gospel today, Jesus says something very different.  Jesus talks about a spirituality of salt and light.  He is speaking to his disciples and He is speaking to us too. He doesn’t say that we are to become salt or that we are to become a light.  He says, “You (plural) are the salt of the earth,” “You are the light of the world.”  Notice the present tense! We are salt because the power of the Holy Spirit dwells within us.  We are light because Jesus, the Light of the World, dwells within us.  In Baptism, both the Spirit and Jesus claimed us as salt and light, and they have been transforming us with their salt and their light ever since.  They are the source of our salt and light. We can’t and don’t do anything to receive them.  We can only be open to receive.


However, we can lose our saltiness and we can hide our light so that they become ineffective in the world. Then, no one profits from our salt and light, neither we nor anyone else.


How do we remain salty and give light?  God makes this very clear through the prophet Isaiah this morning: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.  Then (He says) your light shall break forth like the dawn.”  And again, “Then your light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”


You will notice that a spirituality of salt and light, unlike these other spiritualities, does not focus on us, and is not concerned with our well-being and growth.


A spirituality of salt and light continually turns to God for its source and turns to others to express, share and transform.  In fact, however, as we turn to God and to others, we are transformed, not in quick time and with quick steps, but over our entire life.  True transformation is a slow process!


I call your attention to two death notices this week: 


One was of Fr. Dan Harrington of my community who taught Scripture for more than forty years.  He wrote 59 books, hundreds of articles, thousands of abstracts of articles, and guided countless people in their studies and research.  He also shared faithfully his knowledge and wisdom every Sunday as he preached at St. Peter’s in Cambridge for 42 years and at St. Agnes’ in Arlington for 21 years.  Dan shared the salt of his wisdom and the light of his knowledge willingly and joyfully with so many and for so many years.

How enlivened and enlightened we are because of him!


The other death notice was of a student who committed suicide in Newton South High.  He was the third student to do so in Newton high schools this year.  We can never judge what happened to him or to the others.  We offer compassion to those who suffer from this sad loss of life.  But suicide is the ultimate absence of salt and light.  Without salt there is only emptiness; without light there is only darkness.  Suicide is the final act of self-pre-occupation and despair.


But, we can ask: what happened to the salt and light which they once received?  Was that salt and light nourished in a community of faith?

Were they concerned with the hungry, the hurting and the homeless of this world? We can never take our salt and light for granted.  So, we keep turning to God in prayer and sacrament to receive from the source.  And we keep turning to our neighbor in need to share what we have received, so that, as Jesus says, our good deeds may glorify not ourselves but our heavenly Father.  There in God we find and will find our salt and light, our peace and joy.



                                                         Kenneth J. Hughes, S.J.

                                                         Brighton, Mass.  2/9/14

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