There are many reasons why we can get distracted or feel bored while at Mass. Sometimes we don’t like a song or style of music, sometimes the Church is too hot (or too cold), or there are a million other things going on before and after Church that it gets hard to give our best full and undivided attention while we’re there. One of the simplest things that can help you be a little more receptive to what God is doing and saying on any given Sunday is make sure you go prepared: give the readings a little attention before you go. This Sunday’s readings can be found on the USCCB website, and I want to offer you a few simple thoughts on these readings to help you pray as you go.
The first reading this Sunday is Isaiah 58:7-10. It presents to us a list of merciful acts God wants us to do: turn away from injustice, work to free prisoners, feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, and so on. If this list seems familiar, that’s because it is: these are the same acts of charity by which Jesus judges the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Like Jesus, the Old Testament prophets were often hard on those who are unjust, who commit fraud, or who exploit others – especially those who are poor and vulnerable – and Jesus’ words at the end of the parable in Matthew 25 tell us why: I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40).
In the second reading, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, St. Paul seems to be offering an overly humble description of his ministry and preaching to the Corinthians. He emphasizes that their knowledge of Jesus has nothing to do with his own eloquence or virtue… but rather that it is the Holy Spirit working in their hearts that has drawn the Corinthians to believe in Christ. This is important on a few levels. First, if faith was based on one particular persuasive presentation, that faith would be at the mercy of the next, better argument that comes along. Second, if faith was based on the charisma and giftedness of Paul himself, then that faith would be at risk as soon as Paul departed from them (or at the moment they realized Paul was as fallible as any other human being.) As it is, because their faith is founded upon the action of the Holy Spirit in their lives, this Spirit remains with them regardless of eloquent arguments and charismatic personalities.
The Gospel ties both of these readings together. Matthew 5:13-16 continues the sermon on the mount (last week, Jesus presented the beatitudes) – in this case, with Jesus comparing his disciples to salt and light. Salt gives flavour to food and preserves it from corruption, and even one small candle illuminate the darkest room. Jesus tells His hearers that they (we) are meant to be salt and light to the world. Christians are meant to be the ones who bring the best out of others by leading them to Christ… and we are meant to preserve those who are small, poor, vulnerable, and weak from corruption – sometimes by our words, and often, as Isaiah mentions, by our acts of mercy. Christians are also expected to live a personal witness that makes each of us the “light of the world” – helping others see the way from the darkness of hopelessness or sin to the light of Heaven. Although, as Paul mentions, it’s not about us… each disciple of Christ is not meant to live for themselves but for others.
To be salt and light to the world is a task that applies to more than just apostles and prophets. It applies to every Christian: men & women, young and old. A Church congregation needs salt and light – but so does a family, a classroom, and a workplace. May our time at the Eucharist this weekend – and our prayer, study, and Christian community – bring us closer to the Holy Spirit that we might in turn become salt and light to all those we encounter.