One of the things I like about Pope Francis is the common imagery used in his homilies. No long ago he warned of becoming a babysitter church. Today’s Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae with members of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches the Holy Father used the biblical –and common– metaphor of salt to speak about faith, hope and charity. Mark’s gospel for Mass today provides a good amount of grist for the mill. Salt helps to savor the faith as much as it opens taste buds to share this faith with others.
I think one of the reasons the Holy Father latched onto the use of the image of salt is basic encouragement of Eastern Christians to resist becoming “Museum-piece Christians.” So often the Eastern Christians are treated pretty poorly by Western Christians that it is too shameful to speak about; however, Eastern Christians also love the ghetto mentality. Isolation is a value for them, it seems. Frequently, you hear them complain and criticize the Roman Church for negligence when in reality they seem to prefer being someone’s door mat. If you read between the lines the Pope is giving a personal witness to Eastern Christians in living differently. Later in his homily, the Pope talks about Christianity’s originality. For me, I think the pope is criticizing those who want a uniform theological and liturgical tradition, which is not what it means to be Catholic. Francis, said,
“Salt makes sense when you [use] it in order to make things more tasty. I also consider that salt stored in the bottle, with moisture, loses strength and is rendered useless. The salt that we have received is to be given out, to be given away, [in order] to spice things up: otherwise, it becomes bland and useless. We must ask the Lord not to [let us] become Christians with flavor-less salt, with salt that stays closed in the bottle. Salt also has another special feature: when salt is used well, one does not notice the taste of salt. The savor of salt – it cannot be perceived! What one tastes is the flavor of the food: salt helps improve the flavor of the meal.“
“When we preach faith, with this salt those who receive the proclamation, receive it each according to his peculiarity, as [happens when salt is used judiciously] on food. Each with his own peculiarities receives the salt and becomes better.”
The Holy Father went on to explain that the “originality” that Christian faith brings is therefore not something uniform:
“The Christian originality is not a uniformity! It takes each one as he is, with his own personality, with his own characteristics, his culture – and leaves him with that, because it is a treasure. However, it gives one something more: it gives flavor! This Christian originality is so beautiful, because when we want to make a uniformity – all salted in the same way – things will be like when the woman throws in too much salt and one tastes only salt and not the meal. The Christian originality is this: each is as he is, with the gifts the Lord has given him.“
Don’t keep your salt in a bottle too long! The salt you and I have means to get out in our own environment with the message that with Christ there is richness to be lived.
Francis noted two “ways out” for the salt not to spoil. First: to give the salt “in the service of meals, service to others, to serve the people.” Second: “transcendence toward the author of the salt, the creator.”
“In this way is the salt conserved, [it keeps] its flavor. With the worship of the Lord I go beyond myself to the Lord, and with the proclamation of the Gospel I go out of myself to give the message. If we do not do this, however – these two things, these two transcendences, to give the salt – the salt will remain in the bottle, and we will become ‘museum-piece Christians’. We can show the salt: this is my salt – and how lovely it is! This is the salt that I received in Baptism, this is what I received in Confirmation, this is what I received in catechesis – But look: museum-piece Christians! A salt without flavor, a salt that does nothing.“
Salt is flavor is full of flavor and useful in preaching, teaching, personal coherence, transcendence, prayer, and adoration.