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Home : Faith/Spirituality : Archbishop Sample's Column
Salt, light and leaven

Most Rev. Alexander Sample
Archbishop of Portland

We have just celebrated (Feb. 2) the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the temple. It is a feast traditionally known as “Candlemas” as it is marked by the practice of the blessing of candles and a procession into the church with lighted candles. We remember on this feast that Christ is the true light who has come to dispel the darkness and gloom of sin and death.

As Christ the Light is brought into the temple by his holy parents, Simeon proclaims to God, “…my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32) The light has come, and darkness can never overpower it (John 1:5).

This causes me to reflect that Jesus Christ, the true Light of the world, has also called us to share in his mission to bring light to those who walk in darkness. He called us to be light as well. “You are the light of the world … your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:14-16) This reflects our important role in the great work of the New Evangelization that is before us, especially here in western Oregon. We must bear the light of Christ to others. On the day of our baptism we were ourselves, in a sense, “presented in the temple” as was our Lord. In our baptism we received the gift of new life from God, filled with his grace and made a temple of the Holy Spirit. Our “light was lit,” if you will. By our baptism we are called to carry the light to others. We cannot escape that responsibility.

To those who experience darkness we must bring the light of God’s truth and love. These include those who live with fear, doubt, poverty, homelessness, despair, illness, family strife, economic hardship, addiction and many other struggles of the human condition. It can especially mean those who live with no purpose or meaning in their lives, i.e. those who do not yet know why they were created and where their life is headed.

Jesus used other images in the Gospels to describe how we are to live and witness to him as a consequence of our baptism. He said we were to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). He said we were supposed to be like yeast in the world.

Salt of the earth. What does this mean but that we are supposed to “season the world” with the presence of Christ? We must permeate the world with the flavor of the Gospel. But Jesus also warns us about salt that goes flat and is no longer useful. May we never lose our taste, our “saltiness,” which is actually our “Christlikeness,” i.e. our likeness to Jesus. We cannot grow lukewarm and tepid in our witness to the Gospel. We must grow in fervor and zeal for the love and truth revealed in Christ.

Jesus used the image of yeast (leaven) to describe the Kingdom of God. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” (Matthew 13:33) It is important to get the image here. Only a very small portion of yeast is needed in a large amount of flour to have the dramatic effect of leavening the whole loaf, causing it to rise. That is us in the world. The Second Vatican Council used the same image to describe the role of the laity in the life and mission of the Church (Lumen Gentium, 31) They are to sanctify the world from within, like leaven, by fulfilling their own proper duties and in their unique vocation.

Here in Western Oregon we are told that Catholics comprise only about 12 percent of the total population. That sounds like a small amount in a very large “loaf.” Yet Jesus tells us that is all that is needed — a small amount! We can truly make a difference by taking our baptismal call seriously according to our own vocation. God will do the rest! Our responsibility is to be faithful to Christ, faithful to the Gospel, faithful to our Church. I get excited when I think of what is possible!

Salt, light and leaven. That is what we are called to be. As we begin to chart our course for the New Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Portland, keep these images in mind. It won’t be the last time you hear about them from me. Why? Because they are the images Jesus used, and no one can top that!

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