The Lord is the source of strength, power and inspiration, transcending anything, which we can see and understand.
Do you still remember the communion veil? The tall wall of most convents? Women’s veil everytime they go to church? These are expressions of how the church saw herself prior to Vatican II. In 1870, Vatican I defined the church as a self-sufficient, supernatural society; she saw herself as an institution that does not need the world, and as someone opposed to the world. During Vatican I, the church was besieged by the hostile world such as the forces of rationalism, the French monarchy, and therefore she retreated into her own cocoon, effectively withdrawing herself from the world. The resulting spirituality is called “Fuga Mundi” or flight from the world; the more one is withdrawn from the world, the more one fulfills her vocation as a believer.
In Vatican II, the church has turned around 180 degrees; instead of withdrawal, one is called to involvement in the world. The world is not a place of hostility but one of engagement. The Vatican II document of the church for her self-understanding is called “Lumen Gentium” or Light of the Nations. It is the image predicated to the disciples by Jesus to stress the missionary character of our vocation; that the church is essentially missionary in character. The emphasis is on the word “essentially” to mean, to lose its missionary character is to lose its reason for being. It is like salt that loses its flavor and has to be trampled underfoot, or a light hidden in a bushel basket.
The gospel presents two powerful images for the Christian community – salt and light. Though small and common, both images are forcefully developed. Salt is one of the most precious elements of the earth. It is a sign of purity, it is a preservative and gives flavors to others. Light is destined to be seen by all.
Both images show that the essence of their being is their relationship with others. Secondly, both salt and light have to lose themselves in order to fulfill their function in the world. Both echo the self-effacing character of their life.
The liturgy exhorts us to enflesh our missionary calling, to honor our interrelatedness with all reality. The danger of today’s consumerist and materialistic generation is the pursuit of passing pleasure and a covetous heart. When our life becomes caught in our interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others. God’s voice in our hearts is silenced and the joy and wish of doing good for others, especially the poor, is drowned in the feverish search for one’s fulfillment.
St. Francis in his peace prayer captures the paradox of what happens to salt and light if it becomes faithful to its nature. “It is in giving that we receive.” Life’s joy is experienced when it is given away. Conversely, it is weakened when not shared. When the church summons us to mission, she is leading us to authentic fulfillment. For as Pope Francis says…”here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered in order to give life to others. This is what mission means.” Salt and light fulfill themselves by giving themselves away.
Lastly, while mission demands sacrifice, generosity and steadfastness on the part of the missionary, it would be foolhardy to see it as a heroic, individual undertaking; for first and foremost it is the Lord’s mission, not ours. The Lord is the source of strength, power and inspiration, transcending anything, which we can see and understand. In every missionary endeavor, the glory belongs to God who has honored us by calling us to cooperate. The danger is to arrogate the honor and glorify ourselves.