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Homily: Becoming Light and Leaven for the World

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Let us respond to the word with true veneration, with both our prayer and our lives

The late Blessed John XXIII wrote, "Every believer, in this, our world, must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough: He will be so to the degree that, in his innermost being, he lives in communion with God. In fact, there can be no peace among men if there is no peace in each one of them."  The Gospel of this Sunday Liturgy asks each one of us today, whether we will be light and leaven, salt and seed? We are all called into a world desperately in need of God. Will we be "a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough?"

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CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Citing the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (The Word of God, Dei Verbum) , the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body. (CCC#103)

To venerate is to honor, show deep respect, defer to and honor. The reason for this teaching is made brilliantly clear in the readings for Mass on this Sunday, the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. First we hear these words from the Lord as spoken through the great Hebrew prophet Isaiah:

Thus says the LORD: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am! If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then -light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.  (Isaiah 58:7-10) 

There is a direct connection made between how we live the faith we proclaim, by following the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and the intensity of the Light which will shine through us for us for others. This truth runs throughout Scripture and is incarnated in its fullness in Jesus Christ, the Word Become Man.

I will proclaim this Gospel passage at Holy Mass on Sunday: Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.

Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. (Matt. 5: 13 - 16)

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The passage immediately calls to mind the words of the Lord, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)

We who have been baptized into Jesus Christ now live our lives in Him through our life in His Body, the Church, of which we are members. He lives His Life - and shines His Light - through us. The Father still loves the world and gives His Son to save it. (John 3: 16)  Now, that gift continues through you and me.

In Matthews Gospel we find many more rich images Jesus used to further communicate this message to us, The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened. (Matt. 13: 31 - 33) 

We are light and leaven, salt and seed, in a world that is often stumbling in darkness and waiting to be born. All of these images concerning the spread of the kingdom bring home the new reality of our vocation as disciples of Jesus. The great Saint of sanctity in ordinary living, St. Jose Maria Escriva once wrote:

May Our Lord be able to use us so that, placed as we are at all the cross-roads of the world - and at the same time placed in God - we become salt, leaven and light. Yes, you are to be in God, to enlighten, to give flavor, to produce growth and new life. But don't forget that we are not the source of this light: we only reflect it. (St. Jose Maria Escriva, Friends of God, 250)

We are able to love the world as God loves the world, because we live in Jesus Christ. God so loved the world he sent His only Son into it to save it! (John 3:16). Jesus now walks in that world through His Body, the Church. Understanding and living this in the real, nitty gritty stuff of daily life is meant to to change the way we view our human existence and how we actually live.

In a very real sense, we actually live in the Church and go into the world. One of the titles that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council ascribed to the Church (found in early patristic literature) is the "the world reconciled." The Catechism summarizes several patristic sources in this beautiful exhortation:

To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood (CCC# 845)

The power to effect real redemptive change in the world comes from the life and light of God within us. It is amazing how little leaven it takes to raise a loaf of bread. That is because within those little particles of yeast is found the power to ferment, to change the lump of wet dough into a loaf of aromatic, tasty, nourishing bread.

However, the power contained within that yeast is not activated unless it is mixed and kneaded into the dough. Once you work the leaven in, it is still hidden to the eye but how it transforms that loaf! So it is with Christians within human culture! The power within us is the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead (See Romans 8:11).

However, we must mix it up. We must get in the loaf. We must be in the world - where Jesus is - in order to be used to accomplish His ongoing work of redemption.We cannot withdraw from the real world, from daily life. We belong in the world, we are agents of change and transformation.  

Leaven that is not used in time spoils and loses its capacity to ferment that dough; it must be active or it becomes useless. That leaven must be in the dough to effect its extraordinary change. So it is with all of us. We must be "in the world" to effect its transformation. Once hidden in the loaf, leaven always raises the dough.

It also takes human effort and action - it must be kneaded and worked into the loaf. So it is with our lives of faith. Faith is a verb, it must be exercised. By living in the heart of the Church in the center of the world we are called to bring the world back to God.

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This kind of missionary mindset has inspired great missionary ages in the past and brought extraordinary changes to entire cultures. It can once again! However, it always begins one person, one grain, at a time.

Years ago, after returning from Mass where I proclaimed this Gospel, I read the Sunday paper. Included with the paper was the popular magazine called "Parade." On the cover was a beautiful photo of an Orthodox Christian Bishop, Anastasios Yannoulatos of Albania.

With beauty in his eyes and bearing the characteristic gray beard of the Orthodox cleric, he stood out, popped off the page, with the dignity of a Son of God. He was pictured holding a little girl with a backdrop of children behind him. The caption in the photo read "What America might learn from a man who helped heal a nation broken by decades of tyranny and despair."

The article told the story of how one man of deep Christian faith helped to inspire multitudes and to rebuild an entire nation, one person at a time. In the window of his office was a bullet hole from a failed snipers' attempt to silence this man of the Gospel. The effort failed. T

The Lord whom he loved protected him so that he could continue to proclaim in word and deed the "good news" of Jesus Christ who continually makes all things new! The good Bishop explained that he keeps it there to remind him that "that life can end in a second. We must not waste a single day."

Against all odds this Christian lived as leaven in the loaf. He understood what it meant to redemptively love the world. He was so configured to the Lord that he echoed the cry of the Apostle Paul "No longer do I live but Christ lives in me and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God".(Galatians 2:20)

This man of courage, prayer and action was ferment in the dough, light in the world and the salt of the earth. He stayed in Albania -even though he could have engaged in any number of meaningful tasks as an academic, a cleric and a Church leader. He chose to be with those who needed the Lord whom he served.

He walked into that loaf and offered himself for its transformation. The writer of the article, Nicholas Gage, explained that this holy priest saw 'the despair in the faces of the Albanians."  The Bishop told him "I thought. Who's going to help these people? Who's going to give them hope? I knew this was a test and I said to myself, "If you have faith, stay and struggle. If you don't, go home".



The late Blessed John XXIII will soon be canonized. He wrote, "Every believer, in this, our world, must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough: He will be so to the degree that, in his innermost being, he lives in communion with God. In fact, there can be no peace among men if there is no peace in each one of them.

The Gospel of this Sunday Liturgy asks each one of us today, whether we will be light and leaven, salt and seed? We are all called into a world desperately in need of God. Will we be "a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough?"

We are called to become light and leaven for a world losing its taste and stumbling in darkness. Let us respond to the word with true veneration, with both our prayer and our lives.

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