You are the salt of the earth....
You are the light of the world.
Our responsorial psalm today invites us to:
Tremble, and sin not;
reflect upon your beds in silence.
We do well to reflect upon our calling as salt of the earth and light of the world.
A pastor told me recently that, in school year 2016-17, three parents of children in his parish school died of drug overdose. He was grateful this past year was less painful for everyone. Hearing such stories we tremble. If, at one time, we could watch the news and thank God such troubles were far away, the opioid epidemic today is far away only to those hiding under their beds. The disease of pain relief has crept from our television screen into our neighborhoods, families, churches and nightmares.
When I was a pastor in Louisiana, 1988-95, I was stunned to realize no one knew what to do. I talked to local politicians, police, pastors, teachers and civic-minded citizens. There was no prophet to show us how to react or respond to the death all around us. National leaders suggested the non-starter, "Just say no!" Parents and teachers told their children, "Drugs are bad!" but children soon discovered drugs are wonderful! They felt better than they'd ever felt before, until they didn't.
Even today many believe we can attain better living through chemistry. They devoutly hope there are technological fixes for deeply spiritual problems; that they can tweak their lifestyle without the least sacrifice and still enjoy their jealously guarded way of life. A nip here, a tuck there and you're good to go.
How does the light of the world, the salt of the earth respond?
We begin with grief. I am just barely old enough to recall the reparation some Catholics wanted to make to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When Catholics thought they were a persecuted minority, before Kennedy was elected president, these prayers offered them a sense of vindication. They're still on the Internet, though I find it hard to take seriously the sins they abhor in the face of school shootings, murder/suicide, abortion, and human trafficking. "Insults against your Vicar on earth and priests" sound pretty tame in comparison.
That peculiar tradition of reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus reminds us that Catholics have never been afraid of grief and sadness. We can begin to heal our society with honest sorrow for those who are dying, their orphaned children and bewildered parents. Attending their funerals is a start.
There are a million more visible charitable acts we can do but I am thinking also of the honesty that must characterize our way of life. We can love our homeland without pretending to think it's the greatest nation on earth, ever was or ever might be. Right now, it's despondent with helplessness over the civil war in the secrecy of our homes. How can we not feel that sorrow?
The Holy Spirit is calling us to support one another through grief, twelve-step, and prayer groups. No one should suffer this national tragedy alone, especially when it invades her own life.