‘Lead kindly light’
Today’s readings: Isaiah 58, 7-10; 1 Corinthians 2, 1-5; Matthew 5, 13-16.
The writing of the gospel of Matthew is itself clear evidence that already at such an early stage of Christianity, faith in Christ was in danger of becoming ‘tasteless’ and that the Christian communities were risking isolating themselves from the world where instead they were meant to be a shining light. In such a context, the gospel was written also as a warning.
In line with the first reading from Isaiah, Matthew is reminding Israel of how things were meant to be. Also in our times we need to go back to basics, to remind ourselves what we are meant and called to be and do in the world. Just as happened with God’s people at the time of Isaiah and with the first Christians at the time the gospel was written, we also need to acknowledge the ever clear and present danger of being many things except light to the world.
This is practically a call to embark on a process of unlearning, which, honestly, is not the easiest thing for a religion that is so institutionalised and that has become a culture. In the past we struggled to be protective of society, to keep at bay whatever endangered the faith, and we fought battles that now, in the wake of a post-secular and post-Christian society, all seem lost. Society and culture had it their own way in spite of our logical arguments on what is happening to the nature and order of things.
We need to come to terms with a culture which many a time we define as confused. Now is the time for us as Church to change course and strategy. Not simply to adapt, nor because there is nothing we can do in the situation, but because the gospel itself calls on us to revise our ways, methods and frame of mind.
We need to heed the prophet’s words and the gospel calling, and beware of temptations to demonise the culture we live in and the air we breathe. This is not the way to be light to the world and salt to the earth. We are being called to open our eyes and steer away from putting ourselves in a corner, from isolating ourselves in nostalgic rituals and theological jargon that at the end of the day throws no light on the paths of those who are genuinely searching.
What is the driving force of Christianity that makes it survive in today’s context? Secularisation has very often been hailed as the end of religion. Yet it can also be seen as having, to some extent, reinforced the need of purification of a religion that for many was becoming darkness rather than light.
Isaiah in the first reading speaks of sharing the light of belief in the world. But for him it is a sharing not of arguments that convince the mind, but a sharing of “bread with the hungry and shelter to the homeless poor”.
The survival of Christianity in this day and age is not guaranteed by furthering philosophical and theological disquisitions to persuade legislators and society at large on issues we consider damaging to the Catholic ethos and morals. I am in no way arguing against developing on our part a public discourse that is coherent and consistent on all issues that pertain to the public sphere.
What I am arguing for instead is that the way forward for the Church in these times is evangelisation, and that evangelisation, first and foremost, is not construed on the power of argument that can convince the mind and change culture at large. With the imagery of ‘salt’, Jesus is emphasising not the need to convince and change the mind but the tragedy of transmitting something that is ‘tasteless’.
‘Tasteless’ means having no flavour. In its mission to evangelise, the Church is called to discern the deep desires and needs of people and to grasp where and why life can be without flavour. As St Paul writes, and without presuming that we know it all, it is “in great fear and trembling” that we seek to connect with people’s hearts, not to convince through argument about the truth of faith, but to let the light of the gospel “lead kindly” to the truth that saves and makes it possible to savour God’s presence and power.