Fifth Sunday in ordinary Time
Saint Patrick Parish, Louisville, Ky.
Now I’m not a chemist or geologist, but I am pretty sure that by itself salt cannot lose its taste. The only way I can think of for salt to become less salty is for it to be diluted, say for instance that I put a small amount of salt into a large amount of water – the salt would lose its taste. The same goes for light, the only way to stop light from being light is to hide it, to prevent it from being seen. Our Gospel reading for today challenges us to think of our faith in the same way that we think of salt and light, either we let it be truly what it is, or we hide and or dilute it. To either be salt and light for the world or not.
I have a story that I’d like to share that may help to make this hiding and diluting faith more clear; it just so happens that today is Scout Sunday because my story takes place at Philmont Scout Ranch in Northeastern New Mexico. Now Philmont is an enormous place that employs more than a thousand people and hosts tens of thousands of young people every year. Over the summer of 2011, I had the opportunity to be one of the Catholic chaplains at Philmont. While I was there, I also participated in the Saint George Trek which happens every two years and brings together young Catholics, both boys, and girls, from across the nation to hike Philmont for 11 days. It is an opportunity for these young men and women to discern their vocation and possibly pray about becoming a priest or a religious sister. So, there we were, my crew and I, out in the middle of this wilderness and we had already hiked 15 miles that day, our itinerary had gotten messed up, and we unexpectedly had to hike a lot more than the previous days. It was getting late, and we decided to stop and quickly eat our dinner before continuing down the trail. It was already starting to get dark by the time we got on our way for the last several miles, and we knew, we knew what was going to happen. There is even a video out there of one of the guys going from person to person asking who they wanted to play them in the Hollywood reenactment of the very much foreseeable outcome of these unfortunate events. I insisted that I be played by Matt Damon. After critically evaluating Matt Damon’s decisions it is obvious that he should have had the crew make camp right where they were. You need to understand that hiking in the dark not only has the dangers of tripping over something in the pitch-black, but there are wild animals out there – big wild animals.
Sure enough, just as we expected, with a couple of miles and several hours of hiking left, we began to be stalked by a mountain lion. Now I was in the back of our line, and I have never, ever, been so scared in my entire life! All I had was a little knife and a dinky pathetic flashlight for safety. We must have made quite a sight walking as closely together as possible and singing random songs, like Row Row Row Your Boat, as loudly as we could trying our best to do what we had been trained to do if this scenario ever arose. I never saw the creature, but I heard him move from one side of us, around the back, to the other side, back and forth always following us! Now, this was by far not the proudest moment of my life but one of the boys was bigger than I was and I was in a near panic after the first mile or so. I kept thinking ‘it’s going to attack my legs,’ ‘it’s going to attack my neck,’ ‘it’s going to attack my legs’ … over and over. And so, I am ashamed to say; I asked this larger boy to take my place at the back – I told him ‘if anything happens I’m going to be right there, don’t worry!’ It was at that instant that my salt lost some of its flavor – my faith was shaken, and I did something that I still regret.
Halfway through we remembered that one of the guys, we’ll say his name was Tim, we remembered that Tim had this awesome flashlight that had a strobe feature that was bright enough, and fast enough, to disorient a human, and we hoped it would be the same with a mountain lion. So we called up to Tim, ‘hey Tim, let us have your flashlight.’ And do you know what Tim said? He said ‘only if you replace the battery when we get to the next camp.’ I said ‘Tim! Give us your flashlight!’ It was at that instant that Tim’s salt lost some of its flavor – his faith was diluted by fear, and he did something that looking back he probably would be a bit embarrassed.
I hope these two humbling examples help to illustrate how fear, fear above all emotions, can dilute and hide faith. Fear takes away a bit of the flavor, a bit of the taste of our faith. The Church in her teachings, in her traditions, in Sacred Scripture, has made it clear how far we are to take loving our neighbor and our enemy. Our first readings from the prophet Isaiah today is quite clear:
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.
~ Isaiah 58:7
Now you might say to me ‘but Father, it says to look after our own’ to which I would remind you that it does say that, only after saying shelter the oppressed and the homeless. I truly fear that politics in our nation is diluting our Christianity. This cannot be the case; we are not called to be Catholic Christians through the eyes of our political leaning! We must view our politics through Christian eyes! Otherwise, politics will dilute, without a doubt, will dilute our faith. There are people is our world who are suffering greatly, and we have the opportunity to help them, to see them worthy of our care and love, but we will be unable to do so if we let fear dilute or hide our faith.
We as Catholic Christians cannot sit comfortably in either political party if we are faithful and support life from the womb to the tomb, all life long, we cannot be comfortable in either political party. There is a great debate going on in our country as to what we should do with the world’s refugee crisis. If we close our eyes to their plight we would be hiding our light under a bushel basket; we would be diluting the salt of our faith. We, my brothers and sisters, are called to be a light on a lamp stand, to not live a diluted form of Christianity. To be true to what makes us God’s people we must welcome the unfortunate. We say yes, with courage, and with the help of God, to being salt and light for a world in need!