Called to be salt and light for all Print
Word on Fire
Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

This is the second in a two-part series on salvation history, with the goal of understanding the role we play in this history. In the first part, Bishop Barron discussed how the creation narrative in Genesis teaches us that our role as human beings is to "praise God on behalf of all creation" and that the Fall is man's loss of this "priestly identity." In this second part, he covers the three other acts in the "drama" of salvation history: The Formation of Israel, the Coming of the Messiah, and the Church.

Beginning with the covenant with Abraham, God shapes a nation according to his own mind and heart; he teaches a particular tribe to worship him aright, to be his priestly people. His ultimate intention is to use Israel for the instruction of all the nations of the world.

Act three

Mt. Zion, the locale of the Temple, the place of right worship, is meant to become a magnet to the whole of humanity: "There all the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord" (Psalm 122:4). The entire drama of Israel is the content of act three. But we hear, over and again, that Israel does not live up to its high calling, that it falls short of its vocation to worship the Lord alone.

And so the best and the brightest among the chosen people commence to dream of a Messiah, a figure who would represent the full realization of Israel's mission and identity.

The coming of this anointed one is the central drama of act four. The still startling claim of the first Christians is that Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, is this long-awaited Messiah, the one in whom faithful Yahweh finally meets faithful Israel.

Act four

Notice, please, how Jesus is consistently presented as a priestly figure. John the Baptist declares him to be the "Lamb of God"; at the climax of his life, he comes into the holy city of Jerusalem and cleanses the Temple, declaring, "I will destroy this place and in three days rebuild it," referring to the Temple of his own body; and on the cross, bearing the sins of the world, he offers a final priestly sacrifice, offering right praise to his Father and bringing sinful humanity back on line with him.

This is precisely why, in the light of the Resurrection, St. Paul would refer to Jesus as "the new Adam," which is to say, the one who restores the human race to correct praise. Now, we are ready for act five and the proper context for speaking of morality.

Act five

Act five is the life and work of the Church. Grafted on to Jesus, members of his mystical body, all of the baptized are meant to do what Jesus did and be who Jesus was. We are meant, as Paul put it, to "offer our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord."

This implies that we are to turn every aspect of ourselves -- our minds, our wills, our personal affairs, our jobs, our recreation, and yes, our sexuality -- into acts of worship. To make it more pointed, our bodies and their desires do not belong to us; they are not intended to serve our selfish purposes. They are designed to be turned to God's purpose, which implies that they be placed under the aegis of love.

Now we can understand why the Church is so demanding in regard to sex, why it stands so staunchly athwart divorce, contraception, same-sex marriage, masturbation, etc. It is not because the Church is against sex or against pleasure or against self-determination. It is because the Church is for turning the whole of life into an act of radical love.

We are salt and light

And its dearest hope is that the very quality of its right praise will attract the whole world to Christ. I realize that it sounds strange to put it this way, but the moral lives of the baptized are not meant finally for them; they are meant to be salt and light for the rest of humanity.

What I'm telling the Catholic high school teachers of L.A. is what I want to tell all Catholics: you won't know how to behave until you know who you are. And you won't know who you are until you realize what play you're in!

Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Learn more at