'You are the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world.' 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Károly Ferenczy, 1896 [Web Gallery of Art]
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16 (New RevisedStandard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)
Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
One of the darkest periods in the history of the world was 1939 to 1945 when much of the world was at war. At the heart of the darkness was Nazi Germany, where freedom had been almost entirely suppressed. But not quite. Between June 1942 and February 1943 a small group of students at the University of Munich with their philosophy professor Kurt Huber formed The White Rose, a non-violent resistance group working against Hitler and the Nazi regime.
Sophie Scholl (9 May 1921 - 22 February 1943)
Among the leaders were Sophie Scholl and her older brother Hans. They were executed together. Both were devout Lutherans. It is said that she was influenced by the writings of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. Others in the group, such as Willi Graf, were devout Catholics. Not all were Christians but they shared a commitment to speaking the truth, even if it cost them their young lives. Most were in their early 20s.
One German Catholic who had a great impact on the group was Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, Bishop of Münster, Germany, who died just after being made a cardinal in 1946, a giant of a man physically, morally and spiritually. In a series of sermons in 1941 he denounced some of the policies of Hitler, including that of euthanasia. Hans and Sophie Scholl used one of these in a leaflet The White Rose printed and distributed secretly.
It was while distributing leaflets - the movement produced a total of six, their only means of communication - at the University of Munich, that Hans and Sophie were caught and then executed.
The members of The White Rose are remembered and honoured today and a number of films have been made about them. The video above contains footage from one of those.
I remember the late Fr Vincent San Juan SJ, a Filipino who spent most of his life as a priest in the family life apostolate, telling me that during the days of Martial Law here in the Philippines when the government was conducting a vigorous campaign of promoting contraception - doctors in government hospitals often ligated women shortly after they had given birth, with no regard for their husbands or for their feelings - he sometimes gave seminars to government workers. They had little real freedom. But they were happy and encouraged to hear what they recognised as the truth from Father San Juan. To the participants in these seminars who were bombarded daily with government propaganda the Jesuit priest speaking the truth of the Gospel in a quiet and encouraging way was the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world.
Hans and Sophie Scholl and their companions knew that their lives were in danger. But their Christian faith led them to be the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world. Through them at least some experienced the truth of the words of Isaiah 9:2 quoted in Matthew 4:16, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.
Salt is of use only when it is mixed with other things. The light of the sun doesn't exist for itself, for us to look at it. If we did we would be blinded. It is meant to light up everything around us, as we are meant by being salt and light to bring others to taste and see the joy of knowing Jesus the Risen Lord.
Not many are called, as some of the members of The White Rose were, to be the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world by laying down their lives. But those in The White Rose got their Christian faith, their moral values from others who for them were the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world. Some of them had belonged to various Nazi movements for young people but saw through the false values being promoted and left. In other words, they had been formed in solid values by others, older persons such as parents, some teachers perhaps. others trying to live honest and upright lives as followers of Jesus, 'missionary disciples', as Pope Francis calls us to be in Evangelii Gaudium No 120, without even being aware that they were such.
Last October in his homily in St Peter's Square on World Family Day Pope Francis explicitly called families to be the salt of the earth . . . the light of the world. And, characteristically, he called them to be such in a spirit of joy. He ended his homily with these words:
Dear families, you know very well that the true joy which we experience in the family is not superficial; it does not come from material objects, from the fact that everything seems to be going well . . . True joy comes from a profound harmony between persons, something which we all feel in our hearts and which makes us experience the beauty of togetherness, of mutual support along life’s journey. But the basis of this feeling of deep joy is the presence of God in the family and his love, which is welcoming, merciful, and respectful towards all. God alone knows how to create harmony from differences. But if God’s love is lacking, the family loses its harmony, self-centredness prevails and joy fades. But the family which experiences the joy of faith communicates it naturally. That family is the salt of the earth and the light of the world, it is the leaven of society.
Dear families, always live in faith and simplicity, like the Holy Family of Nazareth! The joy and peace of the Lord be always with you!
Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary, Philippines, USA)