Christ calls laity to be ‘salt and light’ Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

Last week I happened to be in Jackson, Mississippi (for about 36 hours). Now, why would I go there? Was it because I had never been to Mississippi, and I had never tried their particular brand of Southern cooking?

Well . . . I’ll admit that was at the back of my mind . . . but I would never had made a special trip just for that reason. I went to Jackson for the ordination of their new bishop, Bishop Joseph Kopacz.

Bishop from same home parish

Bishop Kopacz is a great priest, about four years younger than I, who grew up with me in the same home parish near Scranton, Pennsylvania -- St. Anthony’s in Dunmore.

Just imagine -- two bishops from the same generation from the same home parish. If you would, I’d ask your prayers for him as he begins his new ministry in Jackson.

In addition to sharing a little bit about my week, I bring this up because Bishop Kopacz chose as his episcopal motto, “Let there be light.”

Those were the first words spoken by God in the Scriptures, “Let there be light!” That’s how important the image of light is to our faith, that the first words in Scripture coming from the mouth of the Father concern light.

Light reveals beauty of creation

And God said, “let there be light,” of course, so that through that light the beauty of the rest of creation could be seen.

And when we say “Christ is our light,” as we did at the liturgy this past Sunday, we recall that the light of Christ is there for us to see the re-ordered beauty of everything else in the world, the true and final beauty of things.

Christ is our light and we are called to live in the light, that is, to live in Christ. To live in Christ means to live in the Church, so that we might see with the light of Christ and so that we might see the world ordered as God has designed.

Life without Christ is darkness

Christ is the True Light that enables us to see all of reality for what it is. And without that light we live in a world of darkness and shadows, as the responsorial Psalm said this past Sunday, “The just man is a light in the darkness for the upright (Ps 112).” Without the light of Christ, the alternative is darkness.

The Gospel from this past Sunday said, “You are light . . . You are salt (Mt 5:13-16).” Because you are Baptized, Confirmed, and “Eucharisted,” we are each conformed into Christ.

Gospel is ‘job description’ for lay people

In reading some commentary from Fr. Robert Barron in the Magnificat as I reflected on and prepared to preach about this Sunday’s readings, it struck me that this Sunday’s Gospel is a “job description” for lay mission in the Church, according to the Second Vatican Council, correctly interpreted. It is a job description.

You are the light! You are the salt! The just man is a light in the darkness to the upright. That’s the job description of lay mission in the Church.

That’s the job description of your mission in the Church -- to be a light (in a world which is very dark) to the upright. And what does that mean?

That means: not only are you to be a reflector of Christ the light, so that you can see the authentic beauty of all creation, but it means that you have the serious responsibility to get “the upright” involved in that union with Christ the light, so that they can see things as they really are, in all their truth and in all their beauty also, and add to that beauty through their works of charity.

Mission to be ‘light to the upright’

Your first obligation is remaining united with Christ, for the salvation of your own soul. But your mission is to the upright, that they may see the light in the darkness -- that they may see truth and beauty in the created world as God intended it. That’s a big responsibility.

The laity are supposed to keep the Church going by spreading the light of Christ into every corner of the world.

And as Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have both said to the laity, “You have an equal responsibility for the work of Christ, as do the priests and the bishops.”

Of course, to say that your responsibility is equal to that of the bishops and the priests doesn’t mean to say your work is the same.

Too often we still get caught up in the thought that if the laity are to be equally responsible for the work of God, they need to be up in the sanctuaries doing a bunch of priest-like things at Mass.

Priests and lay people have different roles

The priests and the bishops have a ministry within the Church which is different in kind from yours, but you are no less responsible.

And Pope Francis keeps saying we’ve got more and more to treat lay people in accordance with the serious responsibilities that they have, and not “clericalizing” them.

That’s the reason why I have very few priests with me in my offices in the Chancery. The vast majority of people there, people in very prominent positions of leadership, are lay people.

There are a few priests for those ministries which require ordination, but otherwise in our situation it’s best for the priests to be in the parish helping the people, and therefore it’s best for me to welcome lay people who are qualified into positions of great responsibility in our diocesan offices.

That’s what I do, and that’s what so many good priests in our diocese do. They find well-qualified lay people to help in their mission of serving the people in the parishes, because they can demonstrate how to be a “light” in the midst of everyday life.

Lay people ‘reflect Christ’s light’ well

Most of the lay collaborators in our parishes should not be doing the priestly roles, but should be carrying out the roles of reflecting light -- as the lay people do so well. And not only to be light, but to get the others to be light. To be salt, as the Gospel says, and to get the others to be salt.

Now Father Barron made a point with regard to the salt that had never struck me before. In the ancient Hebrew world out of which Jesus came saying, “you are salt,” salt was not looked upon as something you sprinkle on your steak to make it taste better.

Salt a preservative, not only for flavor

Salt was seen as a preservative, because especially in the warm climate of Israel, the meat left unattended quickly goes bad.

There were no refrigerators and there weren’t even any iceboxes, so the people relied on salt to keep their meat edible. The salt preserved the meat so that it wouldn’t go bad and it could be eaten.

So -- and here’s the point -- when Jesus says, “you are salt,” it means something very specific in your job description. You are to help preserve, through your prayer and encouragement, the others in their mission of charity. You are called to be salt, but your lay mission is to make as many others into salt, by the Grace of Christ, as is humanly possible for you.

Help others be salt and light

To be salt and light is one thing, to be the source of salt and light for others is another thing. So this gives a whole new force to the idea of solidarity in the world and in the Church: that we really are brothers and sisters, because just as we’re responsible to keep others being salt and light, the others are responsible for us too.

And that responsibility, that reliance upon one another to be salt and light, is what we celebrate in Holy Communion. And that shared responsibility makes us a holy communion.

Lay people called to be a ‘holy communion’

You are called to be a holy communion in the lay mission that you share. So, as we continue to promote and to live out the New Evangelization, please be salt and light.

Please preserve and teach others to be salt and light, and please allow others to be salt and light to you, so that we always know that we never go it alone.

Do your level best to build one another up (not tear down) and to provide the light of truth and the salt that enlightens, strengthens, and preserves.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. God bless you all! Praised be Jesus Christ!