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  • Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

"You are the light of the world."

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 95(94):6-7 — “O come, let us worship God and bow low before the God who made us, for He is the Lord our God.”

First Reading: Is 58:7-10 — “Your light shall break forth like the dawn.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 — “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.”

Second Reading: 1 Cor 2:1-5 — “I have announced to you the mystery of Christ crucified.”

Alleluia: Jn 8:12 — “Alleluia, alleluia. I am the light of the world, says the Lord; whoever follows me will have the light of life. Alleluia, alleluia.”

Gospel: Mt 5:13-16 — “You are the light of the world.”

Communion Antiphon: Ps 107(106): — “Let them thank the Lord for His mercy, His wonders for the children of men, for He satisfies the thirsty soul, and the hungry He fills with good things.”

One of the classic stunts on the original Candid Camera television show centered on a car that had been specially altered to move (slowly over a short distance) with one of the rear wheels missing. The driver would pull into a gas station and tell the attendant to fill the tank and check the tire pressures. Aghast at the missing wheel, the attendant would announce this astounding situation to the driver, who would reply, “Well, I know it was there when I left home!”


One of the books I read in the seminary was The Holy Longing. It was written by renowned spiritual writer Father Ronald Rolheiser. In it he speaks of four “necessary, non-negotiable elements” for a healthy Christian spirituality … first, private prayer and morality… second, social justice … third, mellowness of heart and spirit … and fourth, community as a constituent element of true worship. If one of them is missing, he suggests, one’s spirituality will be stunted. Today’s reading from Isaiah leads us to consider the one perhaps most frequently neglected.


Three are relatively easy to understand even if practicing them is a challenge … Private prayer and morality consists of an active personal relationship with God and resisting temptations to bend the rules of God’s law of justice and love. The second is community as essential to worship. No brainer ... it’s what we are doing right now ... and hopefully seeing it as a must ... not because of a Church law but because you deeply desire to worship God as Jesus directed. The third is mellowness of heart and spirit. This is best characterized or exemplified by flexibility, gentleness, open-mindedness to learn ... and more importantly to be changed by what we learn.


So that leaves the fourth ... social justice. I think perhaps few people would or could argue against it ... but likewise ... few see it as an essential. Isaiah’s words in the First Reading are not simply a list of some corporal works of mercy. They are a call to get out of ourselves and look outward toward our less fortunate sisters and brothers. I had a full semester course on Catholic social teaching in the seminary. The professor called it Catholicism’s “best kept secret.” Everyone knows (or should I say thinks they know ... ) the Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage ... How many of you know the ten principles (or any) of the Church’s social teaching? How many of you know what the bishops have said about immigration reform? Perhaps social justice suffers from an erroneous “other people’s job” (government, missionaries) image. Maybe social justice suffers from the intimidating nature of enormous and complex problems. Perhaps you think, “I’m just one person ... What can one person possibly do?” ... or maybe it’s “I’m way too busy ... who has the time to learn about all these issues?”


As I really thought about social justice in light of the readings this week, I thought that perhaps it suffers from the often unwelcome realization that implementing social justice both at home and abroad may require us to downsize our lifestyles. We need to stop focusing inward and look outward ... In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls the disciples the salt of the earth and likewise the light of the world. Salt brings out the flavor of the food it seasons ... we are called to use the gifts and talents God gave us to help others ... and in doing so ... we bring out the gifts God has given them. Likewise ... as lights of the world, we illuminate God’s gifts in others by radiating the light He has given us. By using our God-given gifts ... our talents and our treasure ... we become a blessing for others and enable them to use their gifts as well.


With all that being said, here are some of those basic social justice issues and the possible “What can I do?” to address them. First, the partial list: poverty … housing and homelessness … hunger … third world debt … predatory lending … environmental justice … health care … racial justice … sweatshop labor … welfare reform … labor rights … just wages … human trafficking … immigration reform … socially responsible investing … and fair trade purchasing. It’s a pretty extensive list ... so much so that you cannot become well informed and politically active about on every issue. Choose one that you feel strongly about. After thinking and praying about it (or them) ... maybe you’ll come to the conclusion that family and work obligations may prevent you from being “on the front lines.” But there are three time-honored ways of supporting those who join the front lines on any of those issues: the first is prayer (and when I say that ... it’s not just a weak last resort ... don’t look at it as if “We can’t do anything much except pray” our faith tells us that prayer does make a difference) ... second ... writing to officials who are in a position to make or encourage changes ... and third ... consider donating to organizations working for social justice. Something to think about this week and perhaps resolve yourself to do something about.


In a short while, we will receive the sacramental body of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. As you approach the altar may it make each and every one of us more aware of the Body of Christ … not just your brothers and sisters present here today … but hopefully also the many of whom are suffering and need your help. Christ calls us to be the salt of the earth and to be the light of the world. If you truly call yourself Christian or Catholic, you are not called just pay it lip service. Our faith calls us to full, active, and conscious participation ... not just in this Church during the Mass, but in the world as well.

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