I’m kind of obsessed with food, I like eating food, thinking about food, thinking about eating food… I’m akin to that person on facebook who takes pictures of all his French fries and shares it online but I actually do it in real life by holding my plate in front of your face and demanding that you call the food “amazing.” But really, is it all that amazing? I mean, the birth of a baby is amazing. Is a big mac amazing? Not so much. (BTW I like seeing those food pictures, so keep it up). So, when Our Lord raises the topic of salt, one of the best kinds of food other than coffee, I’m all too happy to use the occasion to talk about what that means to say that we, as followers of Christ, are the Salt of the Earth.
Our Lord gives us this identity at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the most famous part of which is the Beatitudes which we read at Mass last week. The Beatitudes are revolutionary in the sense that Our Lord is making clear that there is no “way to happiness,” and no way to bargain with God for his acceptance and love. Instead, to follow Christ is happiness, and we do not bargain with God because he already loves us, he already holds happiness before us. The Beatitudes teach that happiness is a life fully committed not to chasing our own desires but that works its level best to give happiness to others.
So what does that mean? It means that to take our proper place as the Salt of the Earth, we don’t need to be eloquent preachers, after all St. Paul says that he is not. And you don’t need to be smarter than everyone else and read the Scriptures in the original language; St. Paul claims that he isn’t very wise (although I think he’s being modest). But he does proclaim to the Church one, simple truth – the mysterious, never-ending love of God. To be the Salt of the Earth is to rest in God’s love, to return it, and be happy. That’s our faith. That’s our purpose in life.
St. Therese the Little Flower, trying to find her place in the world as a young nun, eventually realized that for all of us, God holds out a simple but challenging vision, “In the heart of the Church,” she says, “I will be love.” Therese has no great gifts that are highly visible or flashy, but she can love. It isn’t a complicated spiritual insight, but it is a compellingly sacrificial task. One does not love half-heartedly. We only love when we put our whole selves into it. At the outset, it doesn’t seem like living for others would make a person happy, but the paradox that Our Lord reveals is that in giving our lives away in love, we become truly alive, because love feeds the human soul. In fact, this is the only way of happiness. It had to be the sacrificial love of Our Lord at the Cross or nothing – All else leaves us wanting.
Okay, I’ve wandered from my true theme here, which is to talk about food! What makes salt so special is that it reveals the natural flavors of food. Salt isn’t all particularly good on its own but is used in combination with other food. So think about it this way. Food without salt tastes bland, but with it, the inner beauty of the cuisine is revealed. Let’s apply the analogy to ourselves. The human soul, says St. Clare, is like a mirror. The more it reflects Jesus the more brightly it shines and the lovelier it is. We as the Salt of the Earth reveal not only our human love and compassion for those around us but also right along with it, God’s love. As salt, we glorify God and we bring out the best in others.
Life isn’t always simple or easy this way, and there are times when it seems we will never live up to the high opinion of Jesus, Salt of the Earth, Me? Not so fast. Does God know what I’m really like? He does hear what I say in the confessional, right? Yes, God knows you even better than you even know yourself!
And this is the beauty of love. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, but plays out in thousands of small actions each and every day. We can do this. At the heart of the Church, be love. At the heart of your social circle, be love. In your place of business, or at school, be love. It doesn’t mean get all emotional and exuberant. You don’t need to make Valentine’s cards for all your co-workers. The love that is friendship and human kindness is simple, it’s salty, meaning that it is the simple act of thinking of others first, not always having your own way, trying to consider something from the point of view of another, overlooking flaws in others and focusing on what makes them so great.
This can be difficult, but the good news is that we have the help of Jesus to get us there, and ultimately, his wish for us, the reason he asks us to be the Salt of the Earth, is for our own happiness, to make us more and more alive, more fully ourselves, and ultimately to find ourselves with him in the joy of eternal life.