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Let Your Light Shine Before Men
Gospel Reflection for February 5, 2023 - Mt 5:13-16
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.
You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.
So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Mt 5:13-16 DRA)
In this Sunday’s reading, Our Lord continues his great Sermon on the Mount, the heart of the New Law. Following from the Beatitudes, which can be considered the new Ten Commandments, Christ describes the means by which Christians would evangelize the world and fulfill His Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19). The first reading for this Sunday provides a kind of prophetic preview and explication of Christ’s teaching on the corporal works of mercy, one which He echoes in many other statements. (cf. Mt 25:34-36)
Isaias exhorts us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, support our family and speak with truth and charity, and by doing so, God will make us into the light of the world: “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up… When thou shalt pour out thy soul to the hungry, and shalt satisfy the afflicted soul then shall thy light rise up in darkness, and thy darkness shall be as the noonday.” (Is 58: 8, 10) Thus, through the fulfillment of the Law and prophets by Christ and our adhering to His Way, we are able to evangelize the world and draw all men to Him: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (Jn 13:35) In this way, we can be incorporated into Christ, who is Himself “the light of the world.” (Jn 8:12) As Remigius taught, “For as the sun sends forth his beams, so the Lord, the Sun of righteousness, sent forth his Apostles to dispel the night of the human race.” (Catena Aurea)
A question which could be raised by this reflection concerns the relationship between justice and charity. Isaiah practically equates them, writing that through charity “thy justice shall go before thy face,” and the Psalmist makes the same connection: “He hath distributed, he hath given to the poor: his justice remaineth for ever and ever: his horn shall be exalted in glory.” (Ps 111:9 [112:9]) At first, this can seem confusing. What does charity have to do with justice? Isn’t charity the opposite of justice, a gift not deserved but simply given out of gratuity and compassion?
In a sense, this is true. Charity enables us to love our neighbor as God loves us, with utter freedom and selflessness. However, as the Church Fathers attest, it does not reflect the whole picture. In fact, the poor do deserve charity. Although they do not deserve it absolutely, as God deserves our adoration which is the perfection of charity, the poor still deserve it as persons made in the image of God. Going further, the goods which we own as private property, though truly belonging to us, are not ultimately ours – they belong to their Creator, who has entrusted us not only with their personal use and safekeeping but as a means of growing in charity and justice. This is fundamental to the stewardship of Creation which God bestowed to our first parents in Eden (Gn 2:15) and is delineated by the Church as the principle of the universal destination of goods. All of Creation is destined for God and given to man for the common good. As the Catechism explains,
[The Seventh Commandment] commands justice and charity in the care of earthly goods and the fruits of men’s labor. For the sake of the common good, it requires respect for the universal destination of goods and respect for the right to private property. Christian life strives to order this world’s goods to God and to fraternal charity. (CCC 2401)
More than government programs or forced initiatives, this teaching calls all Christians to give in charity to the poor, both through material and spiritual goods, most of all by preaching to them the Gospel of Christ and His liberation from the chains of sin which inflict the greatest kind of poverty. From ancient Rome to today, as seen in the examples of saints such as St. Benedict Joseph Labre and St. Teresa of Calcutta, nothing draws men to Christ more powerfully than the example of Christian charity, especially towards those who persecute us or who are reviled by the world; likewise, little can cause greater scandal than Christians who hoard wealth or spend it excessively on luxuries without giving proportionately to the poor. Most of all, the exhortation to “despise not thy own flesh” (Is 58:7) commands all Christians to love our fellow members of the Body of Christ, even those in imperfect communion or with whom we differ in obedience or opinion, not by ignoring crucial differences but by helping one another to grow ever closer to Christ and the fullness of His grace which subsists in the Catholic Church.