Jesus insists today: “Your light must shine before men….” I’m sure most of us have heard that little Christian ditty at summer camps, This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” Actually, I hate that song, sung at so many youth camps by goofy youth ministers. But, in fact, those goofy youth ministers had it right: we must let Christ’s light and truth shine before men, or we are unfaithful to Christ and refusing to be really Catholic. It is because Catholics in our country do not shine the beam of Christian truth upon politics, entertainment, and education that corruption and indecency are engulfing us. As they say, don’t just keep the faith—spread it.
Jesus not only compares us, but identifies us with salt and light in today’s Gospel. He doesn’t say a Christian is like salt and like light; he says “you are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.” The human body cannot survive without salt and light, and the social order cannot survive without the salt and light of Christian witness. Our culture becomes less than human, and we ourselves become dehumanized, without the savor and brightness of Christ and his Christians.
As Fr. Barron points out in his Sunday homily this week, salt and light are no good by themselves, but only in service to something else. No one eats spoonfuls of raw salt—we use it to flavor something else. No one stares into a naked light bulb; it only serves to illuminate something else. Just so, Christians serve no purpose if they keep their faith to themselves. We are to salt and illumine our culture, giving it savor and brilliance. By definition, then, Christians are missionaries; we must take our faith beyond private belief into the public square. Incidentally, restricting Christianity within private belief and isolating it from the public square is precisely what our government is trying to do. Soviet Russia and Communist China attempted to do this, with some measure of success. In order maintain complete power, governments since the Roman Empire have ferociously attempted to keep Christianity out of public life. That’s the underlying purpose of the HHS Mandate, which redefines religion as a strictly private activity. We must not let that happen here in America.
Preparing to launch
I am privileged to work in a College that was founded to prepare Catholics to bring the light of Christ’s truth into the secular world. Here at Thomas Aquinas College we dedicate four years to the epic task of assimilating the greatest thought of western culture. We must be aware of the danger, however, that after these four years we will fail to launch out after graduation. TAC is the beginning of our evangelical mission, not the end. We educate ourselves in order to bring those eternal truths beyond the College, beyond our families and friends, into the public square.
The world’s salvation depends upon the witness of Christians like us. Notice also that salt not only flavors food but preserves it from rotting. Light not only reveals what is beautiful but also exposes what is ugly. A good conservative preserves what is healthy in society and a good liberal exposes what is rotten in order to change it. Christian witnesses must both conserve the good and freely reform what is bad. Only the light of Christ’s Magisterium can show us when to conserve and when to change. Our College has provided the world with hundreds of Catholic witnesses who preserve the good and change the bad in the realms of business, politics, education, and the arts. Emulate them! Prepare for your own launching by studying the truth diligently now, so that you can liberally shine Christ’s truth into your own spheres of influence after graduation.
The Health of our culture depends on Christian witness
A flavorless, dim Christianity is not only unfaithful to Christ, but disastrous for the world. Weak Christian witnesses, for example, permitted the Nazi holocaust in Christian Europe. Weak Christian witnesses are permitting the abortion holocaust in Christian America today. Christians and churches that fail to salt and illuminate public life are permitting the pornography epidemic in our country, as we saw in the dark music of the Grammys and the super Bowl half-time show (I didn’t and wouldn’t see it, but was told about it). True enough, some Christians have pushed back, saying, “no, it is not acceptable to vomit out this kind of filth on national television,” but they are evidently still too few to change the culture.
Charity above all
Finally, let us consider how best to give witness to Christ in a darkening world. In our first reading, Isaiah says that if you “share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own, your light shall break forth like the dawn.” The most compelling witness is not what we say but what we do. Only if people see that we care about them will they care about what we say. No one will listen to even the most shining truths spoken by a mean and angry person. Some well-intentioned pro-life folks and pro-marriage folks fall into the trap of anger, negativity, and condemnation. In doing so, we fail to believe in God and his work. He converts hearts, not us; it is for us to love those he has put with us on earth, and then to teach the truth to those whom we love.
So let us make quite sure that what we learn at this splendid Catholic College is not kept only to ourselves after graduation. I cannot say how you must witness to the Gospel in your private and public life after graduation, but I do say we must all give witness, as the Holy Spirit gives us utterance, to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the only Savior of men. May the Blessed Mother guide us in faithfully witnessing to her Divine Son, through her spouse the Holy Spirit, in obedience to her Eternal Father.