On Thursday the Ninth Bishop of Sioux Falls, my successor, will be ordained and installed. I will retire and assume the role of Bishop Emeritus. As a result this will be my last recorded Mass for television and social media. When the Holy Spirit guided me many years ago to personally celebrate this Mass I had no idea what a blessing it would be to me personally and to others. I have been humbled by so many not only in our diocese but around the country and the world who have become part of our spiritual family. Thank you for your support, your patience, your perseverance and your faith, and that of the parishioners and priests of the Cathedral of Saint Joseph over the years. You have allowed me to share my personal faith in Jesus Christ and His Church in this special ministry through the highest form of prayer, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Please continue to pray for me and for my successor Bishop Donald DeGrood as I will for you. Now to the readings.
“You are the salt of the earth.’ Jesus tells his disciples. His words apply to you and to me. Salt is a preservative that enhances flavor and keeps from corruption. That is what personally encountering Christ can do for us all – preserve us from the corruption of the secular culture and of the evil one, and bring out the beauty of who God created each of us to be. Yet we must keep working to maintain that relationship with Christ or we can become separated and empty, our faith like salt can lose its flavor.
The story is told of a man who bought a hamburger at a church bazaar. As he then moved around the room he took a bite and noted that it needed salt to bring out its flavor. There was a table with dozens of salt shakers for sale. He tried one, no salt was in it; he tried another, no salt. The shakers were all empty. He had to return to where he received the burger for what he needed. We can become empty spiritually. We too need to return to the source – Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist and in His Church.
A sign that we as Christians are seasoned with Christ, that we stave off corruption and enhance the lives of others, is whether we are joyful. Despite all the challenges that come our way, Christians who trust in God’s will and God’s way are joyful. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked like undertakers” – dour, joyless.’ Even with the sadness of our world these days, because we know Jesus Christ personally we can be upbeat because from the cross he has conquered the world, as St. Paul reminds us.
‘You are the light of the world’ Jesus also told the Apostles. We are to reflect his light in every aspect of our lives. Light brings clarity and perspective, overcomes darkness and fear, and shows the way, guides to safety.
Some years ago I stayed in an unfamiliar rectory. During the night I needed to get and chose not to turn on the hall light for fear of disturbing others who were sleeping. In the dark I made my way, turned left instead of right and fell down the stairs. A light is not to be kept hidden. Our faith in Jesus Christ is not to be kept hidden but turned on for others to see and to light the way to peace and truth especially when darkness surrounds us. Keep the light of Christ on in your heart and you will not go off course or fall.
The first reading from Isaiah details ways that we might be lights of Christ: “share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked. Remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech – then light shall rise for you in the darkness.”
Some may remember the movie Hotel Rwanda. It recalled the ethnic genocide that occurred in the African country of Rwanda in 1994 when over one million people were brutally murdered in some 100 days. The movie recalls that horror, but it also recalls that in its the midst a Rwandan named Paul used all his wit and skills to shelter and protect the lives of nearly 1300 people including his wife and children after the Belgian owners had abandoned the luxury hotel he managed. He was hailed as a hero. His response was: “I do not take myself as a hero, you see. I did what I was supposed to do. Any normal person couldn’t have done it any other way.”
Most of us are not placed in such extraordinary and dangerous situations. Our challenges and opportunities are more subtle. But we are called to be both messengers and practitioners of Christ’s love. It may be as simple as forgiving, which is never simple. It may be by standing up before family and friends to defend moral truth, which is never easy. It may be by shining the light of Christ on others when they are lonely or frightened. It may be in caring for persecuted refugees or struggling mothers. The fact is that salt and light shared is often reflected back to us in times of our own need.
A boy was orphaned at age six. An aunt he barely knew agreed to take him in. A strange man was sent to bring him to her home some distance away. The boy was lonely and anxious to the point of tears. As the journey grew long for him and night began to fall he grew even more afraid. “Do you think she’ll be in bed before I get there,” he asked. “Oh no,” the man reassured him, “she’s sure to stay up for you. When we get out of these woods you’ll see her light standing in the window.” And suddenly it was there. She was waiting for him at the door. She put her arms around him and held him tightly. A fire was burning brightly and a hot supper waiting. Then she took him to his new bedroom, listened as he prayed and sat with him until he was asleep. She was a light of love who took away the darkness of loss and fear.
Some years later as an adult he received a letter from his aunt telling him that she had a terminal illness. The tone suggested that now she was the one who was afraid. He wrote her: “Very soon God is going to send for you and take you to a new home. I’m trying to tell you that you needn’t be afraid of the summons or the strange journey or the dark messenger of death. God can be trusted. God can be trusted to do as much for you as you did for me so many years ago. At the end of the road you’ll find love and a welcome waiting. And you’ll be safe in God’s care. I’m going to watch and pray for you until you’re out of sight. And I shall wait for the day when I make that same journey myself and find you waiting once again at the end of the road to greet me.” Her light was reflected back to take away her darkness and fear, and give her hope.
As I move into the twilight of my time as bishop my candle is a bit shorter but I pray its light will continue to burn brightly in new ways until I am in my new home, God willing.
You have been salt that enhances and light that shows the way for me. For you I Give Praise to the Lord.