Opening the Word: The light of the world

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Timothy P O'MalleyOur Gospels proclaim the blessedness of the poor, the hungry and the thirsty. The Gospels demand radical poverty, total reliance on God, one that every Christian should have. We’re to be those who turn the other cheek when presented with violence. We’re to become like little children, relying entirely on God for our well-being.

And yet, many Christians don’t always live up to the charter of the kingdom of God. We forget the poor, living a comfortable suburban life. We don’t rely as much on God as on our own ingenuity, our own planning, even our own possession of wealth. When we’re confronted with violence, we don’t turn the other cheek, inflicting violence in return.

We know, as fallen creatures, that Christians are just as likely to fall into sin as the rest of humankind. Our baptism did not magically erase the distorted desires of the human heart, forming us into self-giving love rather than selfishness.

Still, something should make us uncomfortable about the potential of hypocrisy, of living in a way that is incoherent with the demands of the Gospel. We hear Sunday after Sunday about the self-emptying love of the Word made flesh. And yet, is this what our parishes proclaim? Is this what I proclaim in my very life? Have I become an image of divine love?

February 9, 2020 — Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 58:7-10
Ps 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Cor 2:1-5
Mt 5:13-16

Jesus addresses this concern to his disciples. We are to be the light of the world; we are to be the saltiest of salt. If a light is hidden, then it does not manifest the glory of God. If salt becomes tasteless, it no longer functions as a preserving agent.

What does it mean to be light, to become the saltiest of salt? In Isaiah, Israel is the light of the world when Israel lives according to the demands of justice laid out in the Law. When the hungry are fed, when the homeless are given shelter, when there is no malicious speech, then the light will shine.

Christians likewise become the light of the world when our very lives are coherent with the charter of the kingdom of God when we become living images of divine love in the world.

Catholicism is not a private religion, a way to spend a leisurely Sunday morning before we go to brunch. When we profess our faith in the Incarnation of the Word made flesh, in his death and resurrection and in the Church as a place of encountering Our Lord, we’re making a public commitment to a form of life.

Catholics are, for this reason, inherently political. But we’re not meant to practice the disordered politics of the earthly city. This politics is defined by might defeating right, by vengeance against the foe, by winning at all costs. Instead, our politics is one in which love unto the end is the definitive charter.

Christ crucified, as Paul notes in his letter to the Corinthians, is the whole thing. It is the crucified love of the God-man that changes everything for us. We support pregnant moms without homes, give food and drink to the migrant, speak out against racism and unjust war, protest against abortion, comfort those sentenced to die at the hands of the state and care for the created order because this is what it means to be light, the saltiest of salt.

We Catholics are, in some ways, politically homeless. Because we operate not according to the latest talking points of the Democrats or Republicans but according to the self-giving love and foolish wisdom of the Word made flesh.

Now, that’s being salty.

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.