When Salt Loses Its Taste

(Homily for Fifth Ordinary Sunday, Year A)

The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.

So stated Pope John Paul in his encyclical on the Mission of the Redeemer. (Redemptoris Missio 64) He then added, “She respects individuals and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience.”

Freedom of conscience is not an American invention. St. Augustine and other Church Fathers clearly taught it. St. Thomas demonstrated how respect for conscience flows from a proper understanding of human dignity. People will sometimes point to the Inquisition as a failure to live that teaching. That is true, just as slavery was a horrible instance of the American Republic not being true to its stated principles.

I mention freedom of conscience because this Sunday Jesus tells his followers they must become like salt. Used correctly, it does not destroy, but brings out a food's full potential. I just finished a snack of crackers with smoked salmon. By an ingenious process, salt entered the salmon, helped preserve it and gave it a delicious flavor. That is what Jesus wants us to do.

About twenty-five years ago I was pastor of a parish which included Blaine, a town on the Canadian border. I would go there every Wednesday for Mass and afterwards, take a walk through the town. Once a shopkeeper told me, “I am not a Catholic, but I want you to know much it means to me to see you walking down the street.”

I wish everyone were that easy to please. I simply put on my clerical shirt and went for a walk. But it illustrates how people are looking to us for something. Our world has become weary, drab – like a soft-boiled egg without salt. Only we can supply the right seasoning.

Jesus warns about salt “losing its taste.” That happens when we imitate the world. Our Catholic colleges are confronting that temptation. Will they go the way of other universities which were once Christian, but are now completely secular? Unfortunately, some Catholic universities have already become so secularized that they resist the local bishop having a role in guaranteeing the authenticity of theological teaching.

It is easy for an institution to "lose its taste." To resist the downward pull of inertia requires great effort. The same applies to us as individual Catholics. We need to constantly examine our authenticity, what Jesus calls our saltiness.

Once I was discussing a point of morality with someone who is an official Catholic teacher. After trying my best to explain the sense of the teaching, I finally said, “You know, don’t you, that this is very clearly spelled out in the Catechism.”

Without missing a breath he responded, “Well, I guess I just disagree with the Catechism on that point.” I could say nothing. The salt had lost its savor.

As our Holy Father has pointed out, it is not a matter of imposing, but of clearly and authentically proposing. How, otherwise, can we be salt for our world?

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Versión Castellana

From Archives (Fifth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Where Your Synthesis is
2011: Kalos
2005: Less Noise, More Light
2002: When Salt Loses Its Taste
1999: A Sure Thing

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