5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)
February 6, 2011

Readings: Is 58:7-10 / 1 Cor 2:1-5 / Mt 5:13-16

I dabble at cooking. Our kitchen is well stocked with all sorts of spices I am familiar with and know how to use. Sometimes I plan to cook something exotic, something spicy, and something that will give me the excuse to finally use that unopened bottle of whatever that has been sitting in the cupboard for months. But most often, for lack of time, I end up skipping all the fancy spices. But at all times, I reach out for the salt shaker. I can do without most of the multi-colored spices that fill our kitchen cupboard when I cook. But I cannot do without salt. Without it, the flavor does not matter. Without salt, the daintiest of flavors simply don't stand out. And food, no matter how much it has been slathered or sprinkled with herbs and spices, simply remains insipid and unappetizing.

My eyesight is not as good as it was before. There are certain things I simply cannot do anymore: reading while in bed; reading without my reading glasses; even ironing clothes in faint, yellowish incandescent lights. I realize I want more lighting everywhere ... in restaurants, movie houses, churches, living rooms, and my own bedroom. I simply cannot stand the soft glow of lamp shades that, to me, at this point of my life, are more decorative in scope than anything else. Without light, I cannot appreciate much of anything. But given the right lighting and the right angle, even simple cheap items appear more valuable and expensive than they really are. Just about anything in store shelves at malls, where lighting is professionally done, people buy things on impulse, mesmerized by the superb and enticing lighting, even if the products are actually mediocre.

Salt ... just see how much we take it for granted. Young people slather salt very generously each time.  In the place where I work, a type of all-purpose sauce oozing with salt and salt compounds (called finadene), is there everywhere for the taking ... at school cafeteria, restaurants, and even in 5-star hotels. The kids in our school simply love to pour it on rice all the time.

At my age, I know from experience that salt is the primary seasoning par excellence. Without it, nothing tastes quite savory and good. With it, food stands out, and appetite is perked up.

Like salt, light is something that acts as perpetual supporting actor. Barring the expensive and well-crafted lighting fixtures from Italy and elsewhere, light is something taken for granted, unnoticed, unappreciated, and unheralded, until it disappears. With it, a lot of things happen even without one working too hard. Security is beefed up where lighting has been studied well, designed, and planned for. Colors stand out and become more solid. The sparkle of goods becomes almost mesmerizing to people who end up buying things on impulse. The light that is mostly ignored play a no mean role in the decision-making process of people.

Salt and light ... these are what the Lord would have us be. Used in moderate amounts, or used professinally, they perk appetites up, or heighten the value of things. A well-lit lighter on the shelf simply appears desirable and good, even for someone who does not smoke, and thus, have no need for it.

Both salt and light enable food and objects to attain a value higher than their actual worth. They give taste. They give value. And they lend meaning to otherwise ordinary objects people take for granted as the months and years pass.

Salt and light ... These are what the Lord calls us to become ... and remain.

These are what the world needs ... especially now ... especially here, where darkness and insipidness seem to be the run of the day.

In my beloved country, new revelations and allegations show how deeply ingrained and embedded the darkness of structural sin is. Money meant as aid from wealthy countries end up in the pockets of a complex web of relationships in the traditional institutions of government ... from the armed forces to bank officials, to civil servants, to couriers, and accountants and virtual unknowns in the inner circle of power of the few, the brave, and the chosen! The whole nation is in the dark literally and figuratively, how evil men and women were able to spirit out hundreds of millions without alerting higher ups in banks, and the bureaucracy in private institutions.

The once-darlings of the media, who were regaled by their singing prowess and other talents, are shown to be individuals who have a lot to hide in the dark basement of unwanted memories.  All of a sudden, wise and intelligent generals, simply cannot remember events that happened just a few years before. Intelligent and wise, as they are, they have become nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else but fit to be trampled underfoot. Those we looked up to. Those we trusted and believed in; those we thought were keeping our best welfare in mind, were actually akin to salt losing its taste.

But to our shame, we men of the cloth are not to be considered exactly blameless. Repetitive reports of wolves in sheeps' clothing have sullied the image of the Church as a whole. Guardians of morality that we are, some of us have seriously wounded the trust and confidence of the weak in faith, hurt and abused many times over by the institutional Church's seeming insouciance and insensitivity. The light that most often was neglected and unnoticed, suddenly comes to the fore, more by its absence, rather than its presence. The light of good example, the light of faith, hope, and love, have all but dimmed on account of our personal and collective sinfulness.

As a priest myself, I would like to rouse my readers to a newfound realization. The Lord calls us salt. The Lord also calls us light. The fact that we are often ignored does not mean we are not to hold ourselves fully responsible for the ills that happen in our Church, in our world, in our society. The famous story of Gandhi is worth being repeated at this junction. He loved the gospels. He believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ. But unfortunately, so we were told, He had not met a single Christian who fully lived according to the tenets of the gospels. It may be a little exaggerated alright, but it never fails to remind us of our need to be salt and light.

Now, more than ever, we need to reappropriate our nature and purpose. Here, more than anywhere else, we are called to bear light and enlighten others, so that they, too, might see the light that we claim we have found.

We can ignore both no more. We can no longer afford to see salt and light as some kind of supporting actors in the drama called life. No ... they are not just fixtures or condiments. They constitute the core of what living rightly is all about ... being salt and light.