Salt and light

What it means to be a Christian

On Feb. 5, Bishop Raica celebrated Mass at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Hoover. During the Mass, the bishop installed Father Jon Chalmers as pastor. The complete text of the bishop’s homily follows herein.

My sisters and brothers, thanks for the welcome today as we formally install Father Jon Chalmers as pastor of Prince of Peace. I also thank Father John Fallon for his dedicated ministry here over many years. It is not often that parishioners witness the formal installation of a pastor in a parish.  Honestly, it’s a simple rite, but one that highlights the responsibilities of the pastor as teacher, shepherd, and one who helps to sanctify this local community through the grace and power of the sacraments. 

What does it mean to be a Christian? Or a Christian in the world? The Gospel we have just heard proclaimed gives us some salient clues. I sure like it when the sun shines! When it does, though, it can lift our spirits just like when there is an exchange of a compliment, a word of gratitude, or a Valentine’s card! Perhaps today, it is worthy to consider the compliment and challenge Jesus extends to His audience when He states: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”

I sometimes think it would have been equally as flattering if our Lord had said, “You are the salt of the neighborhood. You are the light of your local community!” But He doesn’t. He extends it to global proportions: “You are salt of the earth! You are light of the world!”

Our Lord is not giving a speech to heads of state, scientific geniuses, Nobel Peace Prize recipients, or Olympic gold medalists. He’s not addressing the Philadelphia Eagles or the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl! He’s speaking to His disciples among whom were those who would be called to become His closest associates – an interesting assortment of fishermen, blue-collar workers, and even a tax collector. In the same way, He addresses us.

Last week [the Presentation of our Lord], we heard the likes of Simeon and Anna – people who waited in the temple just to meet the Lord. They weren’t great movers and shakers of the day. They were simple folk whose experience is recounted for us. Simeon said it best when he noted that he saw the light in the person of Christ come into our midst. It is a light we carry: a light for the world that brightens our day.

Jesus sought to look for the best (not in terms of our measure of best) and demand the best (not in terms of our measure of success) from His disciples and those who follow Him. I don’t recall Him ever saying, “I am really looking for stronger, brighter, healthier people, but since they’re all busy, I guess I’ll have to settle for you. So, come along and try not to make too many mistakes.” No! Jesus gives His disciples the impression that they were singled out by a unique calling. They knew it by a certain vibration they felt in their heart. This was right, and the exceptional man before them surprisingly corresponded to their deepest desires and yearnings. It is like what happens when you finally get the right shoe on your feet! This is the one that is for me!

Take Simon, before he became known as Peter. The impression we easily get from reading the Gospel passages is that Simon Peter is an over-confident and impetuous figure: big on resolutions and promises but short on carrying them through. He was the one who said, “I will never betray you!” Yet, our Lord would end up calling him Peter – the “Rock.” It seems so ironic. Yet, when asked, “Are you going to leave me, too?” – when many walked away from Christ because of a difficult teaching on the nature of the Eucharist as His Body and Blood and Peter was certainly free to do so – he responded for himself and the other apostles, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words that give life.” He recognized something more that couldn’t be found in any other proposal of life he had known before.

The only reason we can be called salt and light is that Jesus Himself is the source of our savor and the origin / spark of our light. Jesus is the “light of the world” (Jn 9:5), and the “light that shines on in darkness, a darkness that did not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5) If we had to depend on ourselves to be our own salt and light, we would fail miserably.

We can be salt “of the earth” and light “of the world” only because Jesus has already seasoned and enlightened us. What I have given to you give to one another! Another way of expressing this truth is to say what St. Paul says in the last line of today’s second reading: “Your faith rests not in the wisdom of people but on the power of God.” Without the power of God, without the presence of Jesus, we are salt gone flat and light dimmed.

As salt, we are destined to be shaken and poured out so that those around us can retain their freshness and savor and have their hidden qualities revealed. As light, we are destined to shine in a world that gropes and stumbles in the darkness of its own futile efforts to find its way. Our challenge is to let the salt of our values and our way of living be sprinkled on the insipid and tepid aspects of our daily routines. And it is our challenge to let our light shine in the shadows that cloud our journey and prevent us from seeking out the good in ourselves and others. What good is salt that merely stays in the shaker? What good is a light if it is never lit?

To salt the earth and illumine the world, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah gives us some simple, solid advice in this regard in our first reading: “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 your light shall break forth like the dawn.” It is a challenge to those who heard Isaiah, to the disciples who heard Christ, and to us who hear the living Word of God proclaimed in this assembly and comprise the various and many realities that make up Prince of Peace Parish.

So, Father Jon, that’s the challenge before you. You are to help everyone here become salt and light – to savor and light up Hoover, Vestavia Hills, Birmingham, and many other places that we as Christians infiltrate the world with the simple presence of Christ!

Salt and light are simple everyday realities for us, but a beautiful metaphor for what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a Christian in the world. May God bless you!