Called to be salt and light for the earth

Ever eat a handful of salt? Or drink a glass of ocean water?

Of course not. Salt by itself does not taste particularly good. It might even make you sick.

Ever look direct at the sun or into a bright, burning bulb? Not without doing permanent damage to your eyes.

Salt and light, of themselves, are useless. Their value is realized only when they interact with other things. Their addition brings out the fullness of whatever they encounter.

That handful of salt, bitter tasting of itself, can bring out the natural flavor in every kind of food, from filet to popcorn. The four ounces of salt in our bodies enable our muscles to contract, our blood to circulate, our hearts to beat. In the Middle East, salt is a catalyst that enables animal dung to become fuel for cooking ovens. Salt purifies and softens, cleans, energizes and preserves.

Light’s true beauty is realized only when we look away from its source and toward what it illuminates. Light transforms the cold terror of night into the warm assurance of day. Light enables us to study, to discover, to behold the beauty of our world and the wonders of God’s creation. Light warms, nurtures, sustains, reveals, cheers.

Salt is perhaps the humblest of all chemicals; light is among the most generous of all physical properties.

In calling us to become salt and light for the earth, Jesus asks us to embrace humility and generosity. Those who are "salt of the earth" are not those we admire for their virtue or holiness; they are the ones who bring out the goodness in us and everyone else. Those who are a "light for the world" divert attention from themselves in order to illuminate the goodness of God in our midst.

To become "salt" in the spirit of Christ is to bring forth the "flavor" and enkindle the flame of God in everyone and everything; to be "light" that is a true reflection of Christ is to illuminate the presence of God in the midst of the dark and the cold, the hidden and the unclear.


Father Dennis Hanneman is a retired priest of the archdiocese living in Omaha. Contact him at

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