Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel reading about His Church and uses three images to describe those who make up His mystical Body. All three images are associated also with the identity and vocation of Israel.
He says that we are to be salt for the earth. In former times, God aligned His Kingdom with the kingdom of King David and his sons by a covenant of salt; salt being a sign of permanence and purity. (2Chron 13:5,8; Lev 2:13; Ezek 43:24)
We are also to be light. Jerusalem was a city set on a hill and was meant to draw all peoples towards the glorious light that streamed from the Temple. (Isa 2:2; 60:1-3)
And Israel was given the mission of being a light to the nations so that God’s salvation would reach to the ends of the earth. (Isa 42:6; 49:6)
(Ref: Scott Hahn’s Bible Reflections)
The Church and each of her members is called to continue and to fulfill Israel’s mission.
What does it mean to be a Christian?
So, if each of us is meant to do this, what can we say it means to be Christian? What makes us different from those who are not Christian, who belong to some other faith, and from those who have no faith at all. I am sure you will agree with me that if there is no difference then why to we claim to be Christian? We might as well just be something else or nothing.
Perhaps another way to put it, not as a question but as a statement, is to say that the faith we profess must not only agree with the way of life we lead but must also be evident in our way of life.
This is not an extraordinary claim nor is it any reasoning difficult to follow. We would indeed expect the same of a Muslim or Jew or atheist.
For a Christian, there has to be a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We must know him personally. We must have met him in the inner depth of our being. We must know about him but we must know him as we do a dear and close friend. We must also reach a time in our life, most usually in adult years, when we commit our life to him. All of this comes as the fruit of prayer: personal, communal and liturgical.
Then our life must agree with our faith in a public way. The way we dress (especially when we come to Sunday Mass), what we watch on television, how we use the internet, how we rest and work, how we eat our meals and what we eat – must all agree with our faith. We need to live a Christian identity.
What does it mean to be Catholic?
Now, for perhaps a harder question. What does it mean, not only to be Christian, but also to be Catholic? We must live a Christian identity but we also must live a Catholic identity.
Of course, there will be overlap with what is expected of other Christians but here is what is what a Catholic identity looks like.
There will be devotion to the Mass and to the Blessed Sacrament. Going to Sunday Mass is a serious obligation for us; it’s not optional. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, most clearly Adoration before the Sacrament exposed is uniquely Catholic. During Lent our Parish will be starting this practice.
Along with all that, there must be a true devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the Mother of the Church, the first of us to make it in her complete personhood to heaven. A Catholic loves not only Jesus but His Mother.
Then too it is Catholic to have devotion to the saints, our older brothers and sisters, in whose steps we tread.
A Catholic too must have respect and obedience to the Pope and the local Bishop because the Pope is Christ’s Vicar on earth and the Bishops share in the apostolic calling.
Then there are other worthy Catholic practices like wearing medals, scapulars, crucifixes, carrying your Rosary beads in your pocket or purse. Do not be afraid to pray the Rosary on the bus or train or to say Grace Before Meals in a restaurant or café. By doing so you are showing you are Catholic and you will be salt and light for the world.
Lastly, remember that salt flavours what is bland or tasteless. Light shines and dispels darkness. The world is so much is need to Christ’s salt and light. Even though the world sometimes rebels and mostly is indifferent, it really needs us who belong to Christ’s Church, the one He founded, the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.