What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in our country? This is a question that is bound to elicit a variety of answers depending on whom you ask. Possible answers would include: the mass media, popular culture, materialism, bad government policies, other religions, etc. A missionary had the occasion to put this very question to the great Mahatma Gandhi, “What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India?” His answer was swift and decisive: “Christians.” It is said that the world would be a more Christian place today were it not for the Christians. The Christians that constitute a hindrance to Christianity are not the real and committed ones, of course, but those who bear the name Christian but, judging from the way they talk and behave, no one would suspect they have anything to do with Christ.
In today’s gospel Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). But elsewhere in John 8:12 Jesus says of himself, “I am the light of the world.” Who then is the light of the world, Jesus or his followers? This apparent contradiction is resolved by another passage in John 9:5 where Jesus modifies the statement about himself: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” This shows that Jesus is talking about the flesh and blood embodiment of the light. As long as he is physically present in the world he is the light of the world, but when he is no longer physically present his followers now assume the role of being the light of the world.
The role of the Christian in the world is defined by two words in today’s gospel: salt and light. Now what do these mean? Do you know that the word “sugar” never occurs in the Bible? In ancient times salt was the ultimate seasoning that gave taste to food. Without salt food would be tasteless. Jesus is saying that as salt (or sugar, if you like) is to food, so are Christians to the world. Christians are in the world to make it a sweeter place. How can we make the world a sweeter place? We find the answer in the parallel passage in Mark: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).
As salt we are called to be sweet disciples, friendly and kind, living at peace with everybody. As light we are called to show the way. Without light we bump into each another and fall into the ditch. But light says: “Here is the road, take it; here is danger, avoid it.” Without light and salt the world would be in a very bad shape, uninteresting and impossible to live in. With light and salt the world becomes a safer and better place. It is our duty as Christians to make the world a better place.
But how do we do that? The same way that salt and light do it. First, salt must be different from the food before it can be of use. If salt loses its taste then it is useless and can no longer make a difference. Light must be different from darkness in order to be of help. A flashlight with dead batteries is no good for someone in the dark. So being salt and light of the world means being different from the world. If believers have nothing that distinguishes them from unbelievers, then they are like salt that has lost its saltiness and therefore cannot make a difference. And what distinguishes us from non-believers should be not so much what we claim to be or the badges and pins we wear but the life we live. As Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is the distinctive mark by which you can tell the true Christian from the false.
Secondly, both salt and light operate by associating with the thing that they want to change. Salt cannot improve the food unless it goes into the food and changes it from within. Light cannot show the way unless it encounters the darkness. Sometimes Christians think that the way to go is to keep away from getting involved with society and popular culture. But by shying away from the realities of our society and our world we might indeed be hiding our lamp under the bushel basket. To make a difference we must get up and get involved.
Today’s gospel is frightening. It says, in effect, that if there is so much darkness and bitterness in the world today it is because we as Christians have failed in our job to be salt and light in the world. But we can decide to make a difference starting from today. We can decide to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. Even the smallest candle helps in a world of darkness.
By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
A certain man who used to live a life of gambling and drinking got converted to Christ. His workmates, who used to hang out with him, tried to tease him. "Surely a sensible man like you cannot believe in the miracles that the Bible tells about. You cannot, for instance, believe that this Jesus of yours turned water into wine." The man’s reply was, "Whether he turned water into wine or not I do not know, but in my own house I have seen him turn beer into furniture." The strongest argument in defence of the Christian faith can be made not in so many words but by showing the practical difference faith makes in people’s lives. No one can argue against the proof of a changed life.
In today’s 2nd reading Paul recalls his ministry among the Corinthians. “My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). As a Jewish rabbi, Paul had been trained in the art of making religious speeches and debates. His skill in public speaking can be seen in his presentation of the faith to the learned society of Athens gathered in the Areopagus (Acts 17). There, Paul, in a very creative manner, broke down the Christian faith in philosophical terms in order to impress his learned audience. But the result he achieved was disappointing. His sophisticated and logical presentation of the faith could not convince his audience. Instead, they made fun of him and said “We will hear you again about this” (Acts 17:32). Paul must have resolved and said to himself, “Never again!”
“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth” (Acts 18:1). Paul did not come to Corinth “proclaiming the mystery of God ... in lofty words or wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1) as he had tried to do in Athens. Instead he kept to simply telling the story of Jesus Christ, and him crucified (verse 2). The crucified Lord whom Paul did not mention even once in his speech to the philosophers in Athens now becomes the central theme of Paul’s preaching. He stopped preaching about something and began preaching about someone.
What happens when we lift Jesus up in our ministry? What happens is that Jesus himself begins to act. Jesus himself said, “When I am lifted up ... I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). This is what happened with Paul in Corinth. Because he lifted Jesus up in his preaching, Jesus began to draw all people to himself. Jesus began to move mightily among the people of Corinth such that the people of Corinth came to believe not on account of Paul’s eloquence but on the strength of the power of the living God moving in their midst and acting in their lives. As Paul says, he adopted a Christ-centred way of presenting the faith in Corinth “so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5). Paul’s ministry in Corinth became a resounding success, as opposed to his ministry in Athens.
Have you ever tried to share your faith with someone? How did you go about it? Did you go about it by trying to convince them that your beliefs are correct and theirs wrong? Such a logical defence of the faith is called apologetics. Apologetics is sometimes necessary in presenting the faith, especially to those who attack the faith with intellectual arguments. It often reassures the believer but does not always convert the unbeliever. A more effective way of presenting the faith is to tell the simple story of Jesus dying for us and to share your story of the amazing blessings that faith has brought into your life. This is called giving testimony or bearing witness.
What Paul is sharing with us today is that giving personal testimony or telling our own stories of what Jesus means for us in our lives is a more effective way of sharing the faith with others than bookish arguments. Everyone can tell stories. You do not need a special training to be able to tell your own story of the faith. By nature we are story-tellers. Let us use our story-telling abilities to spread the good news of the kingdom of God as Paul did.
By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
- Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
A scholar was conducting a study of an Amish village. The Amish are a branch of the Mennonite church who live in traditional rural villages far from industrialization and technology: no computers, televisions, refrigerators and telephones. In his study of the Amish village school, the researcher noticed that Amish children never screamed or yelled.
“I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17)
Christians in general and Catholics in particular sometimes have an uneasy relationship with the notion of law. This uneasiness can be traced back to Jesus’ own confrontations with Jewish authorities regarding his interpretation of the law of Moses, and later to the Apostle Paul’s antithesis between the law and faith, as seen in Gal 2:16: “yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”
- Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
“Happiness is that which all [men] seek.” So says the great philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle also observes that everything people do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is what they believe will bring them happiness in one form or another. But the problem is that what people think will bring them happiness does not in fact always bring them true and lasting happiness.
“Let your light shine before others” (Mt 5:16)
In the midst of a recent arctic freeze in Minnesota, I sent out a tweet: “Best part of a #polarvortex is ability to be in a warm house and to cozy up and enjoy time with the family. Pray for those who are not warm.” Someone, known on Twitter as @RiskyLiberal, read my tweet and found it lacking: “Don’t pray for them—HELP them! Take some blankets, winter coats, MONEY to your local shelter TODAY.”
Presentation of the Lord (A), Feb. 2, 2014
“For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Lk 2:30)
The Presentation of the Lord places us in the midst of the Law of Moses that governed the sacrifices due for the purification of a mother following the birth of a male child (Lv 12:1–8) and the regulations concerning the consecration of a firstborn male child (Ex 13:1–2, 13, 15). There are in fact no Old Testament rules that insist upon the presentation of the child in the Temple. Rather, the presentation of Jesus in the Temple marks the public recognition and reception of Jesus Christ.