Homily: Respond to a need, be salt of the earth

Homily: Respond to a need, be salt of the earth February 6, 2023

When I was thirteen years old, I traveled to Cusco, Peru, the old capital of the Inca Empire, for the first time.  I arrived by airplane; it was just a short one-hour flight from Lima compared to the 24 hours it takes by bus due to the mountainous terrain.  During the flight, we each received a box with two small sandwiches.  I ate one and stored the second in my pocket for later.

After getting acclimated to the high altitude by taking a rest at our hotel, (Cusco is at over 11,000 feet or 3,400 meters above sea level), we went for a walk downtown.  Half a block from the main square, a young Indian boy approached me asking for money.  I didn’t have anything to give him, but I reached into my pocket and I gave him the sandwich.  To this day, I have never seen someone’s eyes light up as his eyes did.  He grabbed the sandwich and ran away, almost as if he was afraid I’d change my mind and take it back.  As a thirteen-year-old who lived comfortably, I was blown away by a seven- or eight-year-old child who would be so hungry that he’d act this way.

Some years later, when I was 22, I was on a medical mission trip to a very rural area of north western Ecuador.  I was working as a translator for a pediatrician.  Suddenly we heard a huge tumult outside, yelling and lots of noise.  I ran outside to find out what happened: two women were fighting over the last tube of toothpaste we had to give away.  A tube of toothpaste… this spoke of unimaginable need.

“Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked, and do not turn your back on your own.  If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness,” writes the prophet Isaiah.

In his famous letter from a Birmingham Jail, the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior wrote, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

The message of today’s readings is clear: Isaiah tells us that when we care for those in greatest need, the darkness of our own lives and the darkness that hovers over the world gives way to the light of Christ.  We cannot remain indifferent to the pain, suffering and injustice experienced by the least of our brothers and sisters  – we are called to respond.  We pray, yes, we think about them, yes, but action is needed.

Jesus in the Gospel passage tells us that we are the salt of the earth.  Salt is meant to give flavor… how do we season our daily lives with the salt that is Jesus Christ?  How do we as a Church season the world?  Jesus invites us to boldly spread His light by being the salt of the earth.

Pope Francis wrote a few years ago that “the parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration… it is a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach.”

As a parish, we not only gather to worship, and to grow together as a community through fellowship, but we come to be challenged and strengthened to be the salt of the earth.

A parish must look outwards with a missionary spirit in order to be strong.  We as parishioners must look outwards with a missionary spirit to respond to the challenge of the Gospel to be salt of the earth.

How is Jesus inviting us to be even more outward looking as a parish and as individuals?

It is easier to look the other way when we see a need: who in your life needs a listening ear?  Who needs some financial assistance?  Who needs encouragement?

How is Jesus calling you to respond to the needs that surround you?

Preparing a plate of food and taking it to a neighbor is need is worth much more than a check for $1,000 written to your favorite charity.

As a Parish community we not only have the responsibility to have outreach, but also the need to provide avenues for parishioners to serve.  To become light of the world and salt of the earth, we have to get our hands dirty.

My desire is that by this summer, the Outreach Center at Our Lady of Lourdes will be open not only to provide services to those in need, but to provide us as parishioners much needed opportunities for service: tutoring for children struggling at school, assistance with food and clothing, assistance with utilities, counseling, parenting classes, educational opportunities, guidance for pregnant mothers, mentoring for women in difficult situations, workshops, the sky is the limit.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta famously said, “we think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless.  The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.”

The unwanted, unloved and uncared for oftentimes make us feel uncomfortable.  Yet so does the message of Jesus.

We may not be able to change the world, but we can change someone’s world, and the world right around us.


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