Address by Mons. Nunzio Galantino
Mons. Galantino, Secretary General of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, during the Ecumenical Prayer Celebration in Rome 2017
«You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world».
In order to appreciate the force and the scope of this expression, we need to reflect on the preceding verses (Matthew 5:1-12), in which Jesus proclaimed the Beatitudes. In this wider context, we will see that the concluding statement «You are the salt… you are the light» is by no means a praise that Jesus confers on his disciples! Instead, having proclaimed the Beatitudes, Jesus wishes to say to his disciples: Look, only if your life is spent according to the logic of the Beatitudes … are you the salt and light of the earth; only if you live following the logic of the Beatitudes does your presence contribute to adding taste and beauty to your own life and that of others.
I wanted to state this premise, because many of us still think that simply by introducing themselves as “Christians” do they deserve to be given credit, and in their being to have recognised the function of “light” (points of reference) and of “salt” (bearers of sense). This goes for us all, and probably too for all Christian traditions and for all those belonging to any faith. It seems to me that this is a temptation that can affect simply anyone, from any background, independently of their religious background. There are even those who think that by dressing or speaking in a certain way they are automatically considered as people who have the ability to confer new taste and new meaning to life!
For the Beatitudes to be followed immediately by the statement «You are the salt … you are the light», Jesus is showing the path a person of Faith must take. Jesus’ disciples follow a path clearly sign-posted by the Beatitudes. A passion for works of peace, merciful attention towards others, a life lived in poverty and marked by sobriety. This is what gives meaning and taste to the life of a believer, transforming it into a luminous life.
Instead of seeking to give taste and add splendour through tangible gestures and choices, as asked Jesus asks of us, we “busy ourselves” with showing off. Instead of giving light, we sometimes prefer to organise pompous events for show.
The Gospel however does not ask for this! Instead it gives us instructions – which at times may appear banal – as when it affirms that love is not to be shown off, but rather is to be lived; and when it is lived, it reveals itself. Therefore, things need not be shown off to be authentic, they just need to be authentic. Light is not to be put on display, it needs only to be turned on and made visible.
When Jesus states ««You are the salt … you are the light …», it is as if he was saying to us: Would you like to get to know God? Do not discuss Him, do not try to convince anyone; rather do something tangible; something beautiful, meaningful, something that can truly be savoured… So that those who see it, will spontaneously say what beautiful things you do and live! Who makes you do that? In whose name do you do that?
This is how God wants to be shown and witnessed! With the strength and clarity of light; the distinct taste of salt: through tangible choices and gestures which emanate and give life its true flavour.
Many of our pastoral choices, and many of the positions we adopt in relation to the society in which we live, especially those which bring with them a tendency to show off and convince, are in the end only distractions. They eventually cloud the one and only approach suggested by the Gospel: that of evidence/witness; which entails making choices and gestures that make evident the abundance of “taste” in a life lived following Jesus. If the life of a believer is presented in this way, as a life replete with meaning, in short, a fullfilled life, then everything else we say, write or convey will aquire a new meaning!
So, what does is mean to be salt, to be light? What can give taste and radiance to our life of faith?
We can do it by finding new ways, opening up to new possibilities, being more daring and fighting against fatalism and the force of habit: two lethal diseases for anyone, not just believers!
We need to start smiling again in such a way that whoever meets this smile smiles in return. They will smile because they sense that they have encountered a person who is not a warmonger, someone who does not discriminate like “little souls” do. So, we need to go back to smiling and make our smiles contagious. Our being should be radiant without claiming to be blinding; and our being brings salt in the measure that emphasises other tastes without obliterating them. Just think of the bother caused by a blinding light or an excessively salty dish!
Be light and salt in the way that respects those you meet!
There is a great sensitivity required of a believer, particularly today!
We can never remind ourselves enough of Peter’s advice in his first letter: «Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…». (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Let us pray with Matthew 5:13-16
Lord, You have asked me to be “salt”. You have therefore asked me to remain connected to the earth, to be present in my temple, here and now. Attentive to my own needs and to the needs of those beside me.
You have asked me to be “light”, at a time when darkness appears to have thickened. The light enables me to see the outlines and colours of things, of reality and of the world in their nuance and in their beauty. It also allows me to learn of their countless needs.
Give taste, oh, Lord, to my life; make my hopes consistent; put trust into my fears; put light into my darkness, and peace into my heart, my thoughts, my feelings.
Help me understand, oh Lord, that to be “salt” means to be temperate, at this time of arrogance; a peacemaker, at this time of overpowering; free from “things”, at this time when a person’s worth is measured by their bank account.
Help me understand, that I will be real “salt” and real “light” if I commit to denounce every western exploitation where well-being is founded on an usurpation of authenticity.
I will be “salt of the earth” if with and in my environment,
I do not renounce to look face-to-face to the needs of others.