Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

05 February 2023

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A


[Isaiah 58:6-10; Psalm 112; 1Corinthians 23:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16]

This past week I had occasion to visit Saint Joseph’s College on the campus of the University of Alberta. In an evening session, I spent a couple of hours with about fifty young adults. The occasion involved a question-and-answer session, and I must say I came away from it greatly edified and immensely encouraged. The questions all focused upon matters of faith, with a great many of the students earnestly wanting to know how to share it with others, especially in an environment that is not always receptive to the Gospel or the teachings of the Catholic Church. I gave what responses I could, but I wish that I had thought then to refer them to the scriptural texts for this mass. In them, we find the best of all answers to the question of how we share the faith with others.

Let’s consider first the text from Saint Matthew. There we are reminded that the call from Jesus to share the Gospel is given not only to those young adults at Saint Joe’s but also to us all. Looking at his disciples, Jesus says: “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.” With these metaphors Jesus makes clear that it is an inescapable duty of his followers to be active in the world by sharing the good news of salvation.

In ancient times, salt was essential for life, since it was widely used as both a seasoner and preservative of food. Jesus is saying here that our mission as disciples is vitally important for the life of the world, since we carry to all people the announcement of salvation in Christ, the only message that can give true hope. When the world around us grows increasingly irreligious and indifferent to the Gospel, we need to be careful not to lose our moral fervour and become discouraged, like salt that has “lost its taste”. Indeed, the more the world drifts from Jesus Christ, the more we need to make him known. There is no task more important, and no mission more exciting.

Jesus reinforces our call with the image of light. Where light shines, darkness vanishes. We are all only too well aware that, in our current day, the darkness of moral confusion reigns. As disciples of the Lord, our call is to reflect by our lives the true light that is Jesus Christ, in whom alone we can see clearly the meaning of our earthly existence, the right way to live, and the hope he offers to everyone.

Yet, to be “salt and light” is not easy. This difficulty is precisely what animated many of the questions posed by the college students. “What am I supposed to say when our Christian faith is challenged? I often feel like I don’t have the right words. How do I respond when people challenge our moral teachings or think that we Catholics hate them simply because we disagree with them?” Good questions, which I suspect arise not only among young adults but also each of us. Like them, we can all find ourselves in situations where we struggle to know how we can be the “salt and light” the Lord calls us to be. Here is where we are given answers from the biblical passages proclaimed at mass today.

St. Paul addresses the question of what to say. Notice how he, the greatest of all preachers, experienced exactly what we do. Recalling his ministry among the Corinthians, he readily admits that he was terrified at the prospect of sharing the Good News with them, because he did not have “lofty words or wisdom”. He knew that any words of his own would, of themselves, be insufficient. What he did have though, and what he relied upon fully, was the power of the Holy Spirit to provide the words and make them effective. Echoing here in the background is the promise of Jesus to his disciples that God would provide them with what needs to be said as it is needed (cf. Matthew 10:19). In other words, when called upon to discuss or defend our faith, we are to pray for words from the Holy Spirit, speak, and entrust the effectiveness to God.

Remaining with the scriptural texts, the second answer that emerges to the difficulties of sharing the faith is the priority of deeds over words. We hear this from Jesus himself when he says: “let your light shine before human beings, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” The most effective way to be “salt and light” is by the witness of good deeds that are animated by the truth and beauty of the Gospel. This teaching was foreshadowed centuries before in the prophecy of Isaiah, through whom God summoned the people to overturn injustice and oppression, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and house the homeless.

At the present time, there is no shortage of need for good works. To take but one example, food insecurity is spreading now at an alarming rate. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul here in the Archdiocese tells us it cannot keep up with the increasing demand for food and other forms of assistance, and are constantly in need of both donations and volunteers. This cannot leave us indifferent. In addition, our call to be “salt and light” impels us to be vigilant, on the lookout for other opportunities to do good deeds that bring comfort and hope to people in need.

Those same students who asked me questions the other evening gather regularly together for the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. They know that only by communion with the Lord Jesus can they be the salt and light he calls them to be. We know this, too. So, let us pray in this mass that God empower us with both the words and the deeds needed to be authentic and effective witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ, and thus give glory to our Father in heaven.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith

St. Joseph’s Basilica

February 5th, 2023