In today’s Gospel of St Matthew, Jesus said to His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth . . . and you are the light of the world. . .” Note that Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth, not you can become the salt of the earth. Likewise, He also said, “You are the light of the world, not you can become the light of the world.”
For some of us, we perhaps tell ourselves, “Quite frankly, I know God knows that I am not much of “salt and light” to the world for Him . . . Other than coming to Mass on Sundays, and a short prayer every day, I don’t seem to have done much for God. If we consider ourselves to belong to this category of “salt and light” then, I suppose, the first important thing to do today is to ask ourselves, “Do I desire to become saltier and burn brighter for God?” And if I am not yet sure, at least we should ask ourselves, “Do I yearn to have the desire to come out of my present blandness as salt and dullness as light for God?”
Then again, some of us may tell ourselves, “Although I want to do more for God, I don’t think I can really do much more because I am too entrenched, too stuck to my old ways and lifestyle. I know I am generally a good person, but I am not in the habit of giving God too much attention in my daily life. My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we have such an impression about ourselves, then let us remind ourselves that it is not helpful towards our growth at all. This is so because when we focus too much on our weaknesses or negative points, then what we are actually doing is that we are sub-consciously convincing ourselves that we cannot change for the better; and that’s not good for us and for others, especially those whom we love. We must all try to learn to have a more positive outlook on ourselves.
Jesus said that we are already His “salt and light” in this world. In the Christian sense, this means that we should constantly live with the belief and hope that regardless of how imperfect, how bland a salt or how dull a light we are as Christians, God will still be able to make use of us in His ways and in His time.
When I was a novice, the Jesuit priest who gave us lessons on how to preach, told us this story. He said, “Some time ago, I was at a Mass at which a Bishop was preaching. I was increasingly feeling very irritated because firstly, the Bishop not only went on and on in his homily; each time you thought he would end, he would bring in a new topic, that was not really connected to what he said earlier!” And so the Jesuit said, “I told myself, he may be a good bishop, but he certainly is a horrible preacher.”
After Mass, while he was on his way out, this Jesuit priest met an elderly man. This man said, “Father, don’t you think the Bishop’s homily was so beautiful and so inspiring?” The Jesuit priest said, “There was a sudden silence; I was shocked; I did not know what to say or do to myself.” Recovering from the shock, he said, “I immediately turned round, walked up to the altar of the church, went on my knees and asked for God’s forgiveness.” He added, “I suddenly realized that I had missed the message of the bishop’s homily because I was over critical and too analytical in my approach. Although I still think the bishop preached a disconnected and over lengthy homily, I now realize that my heart should have been more open, like that of the simple man who was moved by the bishop’s preaching. And so, I thanked God for reminding me to be open to His Truth through sending me this good man.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as today’s Gospel calls upon each of us to be God’s disciple, let us note that our achievements are not to be measured by human standards. Even though we are weak and imperfect instruments, God can and will still want to use each of us to draw others closer to Him.
What really counts is what we can daily offer to God, regardless of how small or insignificant they are. What the Holy Spirit will then do is to take the seemingly worthless scraps that we all offer and piece them together, like a quilt. And we can be sure that the outcome will take on a divine beauty that is beyond all human imagination.
In one of our Jesuit boarding high schools in Ireland, a Jesuit priest once asked his class, “Can you give me the name of your favourite saint?” Immediately, everyone in the class raised his hand and unanimously said, “Bro.Keoh!” Why Bro. Keoh of all people? He was only a handyman and carpenter in the school. This Jesuit priest eventually found out that the real reason why Bro.Keoh got all the boys’ votes was because Bro.Keoh had been quietly repairing broken windows and other things for these young boys, without informing the prefect of discipline.
To these boys, Bro.Keoh who was quietly covering their tracks somehow showed that he understood them and did not judge them too harshly for their mischief. And so, for them, Bro. Keoh was God sent. Bro.Keoh was their hero and saint.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, when we, priests and religious, take the plunge and commit ourselves to God, we do so freely, willingly and without fear. This is because we know that our strength comes from God, and the real outcome of what we do for God is in His hands. Each of us without exception has limitations; no one is perfect. Whether we are poor preachers, simple carpenters or imperfect religious, the Holy Spirit can and will still use us in ways that we are not aware of. In so far as we truly try to love God and others, even a simple smile will not go wasted.
And so, as I conclude this homily, let us then remind ourselves once again that Jesus is challenging us, through today’s Gospel of St Matthew, to become saltier and to burn brighter for God. We must leave today’s Eucharist celebration believing, more than before, that we can all do our part for God, as His disciples.
More specifically and practically, in this belief, we must also remind ourselves that God is in the midst of every thing that we do and everything that happens to us. And so when we strive to be saltier or burn brighter in our daily lives, we must not forget that what really matter is what God thinks of us, and not how effective our works are. Primarily, what matters most is if we do things and live for God. If we can do this then our lives will truly in God’s way of making a real difference to others. As salt we will bring more taste to people’s lives; as light we will also be like a lamp on a lamp-stand. A lamp that provides, with God’s grace, light to those who are in darkness. “Seeing your good works,” as Jesus says, “all will then praise the Father.”
Philip Heng, S.J.