Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Salt and Light: A Modest Apostolate

Fr. Paul Scalia, Pastor at St. John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia, wrote a beautiful Gospel Commentary on Matthew 5:13-16 entitled, A Modest Apostolate, in the Arlington Catholic Herald this week. Enjoy!!!

A Modest Apostolate

By Fr. Paul Scalia

Do not put too much salt on your food. It is bad for your heart. Besides, it ruins the taste. And do not blind people with lights. The best lighting is gentle and indirect. Turn your high beams down when traffic is coming. No one likes a klieg light shining in his face.

Now, this advice might (or might not) be helpful for your daily living. But it can help us understand what Our Lord says about us: “You are the salt of the earth. … You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13,14). His words describe the relation of Christians to the world: salt to flavor it and light to brighten it. But these images also capture how modest and unassuming evangelization should be.

There is a place, of course, for the large and dramatic efforts to win souls for Christ. The grand presentations can be effective. But they come and go, and people still need to encounter Christ in the ordinary. What is needed in daily life is an evangelization that is a subtle, indirect and gentle. Most of us are called to bring souls to Christ not on a large stage but in very ordinary circumstances — in the home, at work, on the bus, etc. And for that modest apostolate we do well to heed the subtlety of salt and light.

Salt, first of all, works best when it is not noticed. It is not meant to call attention to itself but to the flavor of the food. It works best when it disappears into the food. So also the Christian works best when he gives a natural, peaceful and gentle witness, bringing out the goodness, truth and beauty of God’s creation without calling attention to himself. A faith worn comfortably and peacefully is perhaps the greatest witness that can be given. A charitable word, an act of patience, a small sacrifice — these are like salt that goes unnoticed itself but brings out a greater flavor. People should take more notice of God than of us. They should taste the goodness of the Lord. We are only there to bring out that goodness.

Light likewise works best when it is indirect. A lamp is meant to call attention to the things around it, not to itself. So also the light of evangelization ought to differ from the light of interrogation. The light of Christ should not blind others. Rather, it should gently illuminate what is good and bring out its beauty. The brash and pushy Christian usually has the same effect as a spotlight: It makes people close their eyes. The indirect and gentle light given by a calm and peaceful Christian life entices more than the glare of stage lights.

The subtlety of the apostolate has eternal significance. But it carries more importance perhaps for us, because we live in such an immodest culture. Everywhere we are encouraged to advertise and promote ourselves. Now everyone can have a web page all about himself. And in the midst of this, our witness to Christ is lost. We more than our predecessors, therefore, need to learn the importance of the modest apostolate that calls attention not so much to us as to Him.

Our Lord summarizes this evangelical modesty by saying, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16). They see our good deeds — which may be very small indeed — but it is our Father in heaven Whom they glorify. In short, those good deeds — so much salt and light — bring people not to us but to Him.

Fr. Scalia is pastor of St. John the Beloved Parish in McLean.

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