By Father John Bayer
Special to The Texas Catholic
Jesus tells us we are “the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13). In other words, we are the seasoning of the world – that small element that makes the whole enjoyable. With the Holy Spirit dwelling in us through baptism, Christians are destined to change the world like spice turning soup from tastelessness to perfection.
Is this how we see ourselves? Are we small and flavorful, transforming the world; or are we common and tasteless, allowing the world to transform us? And what, exactly, is our flavor?
When I think of salt, I think of surprise, excitement and tang. A “salty” person is sharp, someone who enlivens others with pleasant unpredictability and wit. She resists the agents of conformity and mediocrity: laziness, bad habit, ignorance and moral compromise – all those forces that try to corral us into a predictable, faceless mass and steal the originality of our lives.
How do we keep our tangy originality? Originality grows through prayer, for the truly “original” person is someone in touch with the “Origin” of all, the Creator. No one is original simply for refusing to conform. Someone singing off-key is not original. We become original when we live from the roots of things: the roots of the world, of our community and of our personalities. To be original is to be authentic to who we are as creatures; it means discovering the depths of our common human nature along with the special “name” – the personal identity – that we are each given by our Creator (cf. Rev 2:17).
If we want to stay salty, we must learn to pray. It is too easy to coast superficially through our interior lives, barely even trying to evaluate our thoughts and decisions against something coherent and deep. True prayer forces us to live deliberately, with intention and desire. We have all experienced, I am sure, the difference between inauthentic prayer (or just rattling empty words) and true prayer, which is the prayer that emerges from the deepest centers of what we understand and desire.
Prayer satisfies only when it is genuine. No matter whether it brings us to cry salty tears of joy or sorrow, there is something singularly consoling about true prayer. Without it, our interior lives are flavorless and tedious, and we become listless and frayed. Without depth and stability, which are gifts rooted in God, we are vulnerable to the first agents of mediocrity we face – we give in to the click-bait on the internet; we permit ourselves the trashy shows and songs that weaken our hearts; we speak thoughtlessly; we give in to unbridled passion, and so on… Our days begin to feel intolerably boring and meaningless, like salt that has lost its taste, “no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Mt 5:13).
If we feel this way, it is a sign that we need to return to our Origin. It is time for prayer. The salty excitement of life comes from the dialogue with God in which we each discover our vocation – who we are and the mission we are each given in community. God really does have a plan for everyone. It is not enough just to live a “decent” life by avoiding sin, since God did not create us to be a faceless mass of “non-sinners” – he created a community to carry out his work, giving us each a name and a purpose. We must look into his face through prayer. It is like a mirror in which our own faces emerge in all their exiting beauty and originality.
Strengthened by prayer, we will transform the world, which is desperate for something new and tangy. The same conflicts, vices and injustice seem to go on and on. Let us break the familiar cycles of sin and death by doing something original. Let us give the world the gift of salt.
Each day we should ask: What newness does God wish to give the world through me? Where am I called to interject something unpredicted, something original? Will I make peace where none thought it possible? Will I live with the tangy selflessness of Christ? Just a little “pinch” of prayer can transform our hearts, and turn us truly into the salt of the world.
Father John Bayer, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving.