The old salt of the earth meets the new
24th February 2014 · 0 Comments
By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Heavily invested in the world of medicine, the University of Texas at Arlington displays its wares at every turn, including the University Catholic Community (UCC), most of whom identify themselves as students in pharmacy, nursing and medicine.
It was my first venture onto the campus of UTA, although the UCC center is about a mile away from the central part of the campus. Usually celebrated in the Rio Grande ballroom of the university, the Sunday 5:30 p.m., Mass was celebrated this time in the activity room of the UCC center because of expected visitors and ensuing dinner.
Dependable music director Zenobia Collins, eight OMM choir members and some regulars inspired the congregation until I arrived late due to unforeseen circumstances.
Without missing a beat, we launched into our usual Gospel/Jazz Mass after I had secured needed forgiveness from the students et al for the inconvenience of my tardy arrival.
Almost all the students — one slept throughout the Mass — chimed in readily to all the singing and praying, as we made our way through a homily spiced with questions and information about who they are according to Jesus, “You are the salt of the earth.” That metaphor from Matthew 5:13 of the day’s Gospel reading put each one of us on notice.
Legendary for its seasoning capability for most foods, salt is a flattering but real comparison to what we would all hope to be as human beings and especially as believers.
Yes, we want to be a fabulous seasoning in our own life that spills over into a welcome seasoning in our family members, our extended family and extended church family.
We want to be an eagerly-awaited sight and sound to everyone, no matter where or with whom we are. We want to be the front end of the dictum, “Some give joy wherever they go; some give joy whenever they go.” Again, we do not want to fit that axiom of Benjamin Franklin, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”
Salt has amazing properties other than relish. In fact, its savory quality is nature’s way of inducing us to consume it because it enables our blood cells to retain water and facilitates communication between our nerves and muscles. However, we must beware of consuming too much salt, for this causes our body to retain excessive fluid.
Thus, we are made to understand that, while salt is very necessary to our survival, it can be a terrible liability. It is even a poison as displayed by salted meat where the salt has killed every living organism in the meat, preserving it indefinitely. Since we preserve life, we embrace the preservative aspect of salt along with the whole metaphor.
Salt-starved because of its lack in their grass diet, Kenyan elephants, accompanied by their calves, enter Kitum Cave in Mount Elgon, a dormant volcano, where they grope around in the pitch dark of night until they find the salt-licks in the mineral-rich walls. Ripping out chunks of rock with their tusks, they chew and swallow the salt-laced rocks.
The elephants have been doing this for generations, indicating the intensity of the animal drive to obtain and consume sodium. With the same intensity, salt (Latin sal) was so dear among the ancient Romans that they paid wages with bags of salt. Hence, the word salary comes from salarium, the Latin for payment (in salt) due to a worker.
Interestingly, one student mouthed what I was saying about salary before I said it. They understood well and embraced the challenge of Jesus, “You are the salt of the earth!” They could see that we are the old salt of the earth and they are the new salt of the earth. Under Campus Minister Jeff Hedglen, they managed all details of the celebration.
While some of us have run most of the course and others are approaching the finish line, the students have scarcely begun the race and would do well to learn from us. Which brings us to another meaning of sal; that is, wit or wisdom. “Take it with a grain of salt,” we often say about spoken or written words. Such wisdom we must share.
We should have that same intensity in our pursuit of showing ourselves to be the highly-desired seasoning in our own and in the lives of others. Without exception, we have in common that we long for well-flavored, sparkling personalities in others, at least in those close to us in family, extended family and extended church family.
Just as salt enables our nerves and muscles to communicate, so should we enable each other to communicate and share our gifts, our talents, our know-how, our expertise, our experience and our positive discoveries, especially live instances of the Good News.
“We came to celebrate the Eucharist!” two students responded to my query, “Why did you come here today?” That answer shows that we will perish unless nourished by the Eucharist and each other, “We are many members, but we form one body.” In the Jesus arithmetic: When we share joy, we multiply it. When we share sorrow, we divide it.
This article originally published in the February 24, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.