In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount and tells the disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.”
Salt brings out the flavors of the ingredients. It is also a preservative. I don’t usually think very much about how salt enhances the flavor of food – until I accidentally pick up a “no salt” can of green beans at the grocery store. The can usually sits on the pantry shelf for two years, where it gets buried behind soup cans and boxes of macaroni and cheese. When I finally pull it from the far recesses of the pantry many months later, I sigh heavily and toss it in the trashcan.
Salt is that important.
So the question is this: has the
Catholic Church fulfilled the call to be the salt of the earth?
Let’s say you are headed off to college. You look at the list of majors, and you settle on one. Will it be music, education, agriculture, science, architecture, literature, art, politics, or social studies? A sincere study of any of these disciplines will reveal that the Church really has taken the Lord’s command seriously. She has been salt to all that is good and beautiful in the human experience.
Ponder a moment how the Church has affected, enhanced, or transformed the field you know best. Did the
Catholic Church or the Mass birth any great musicians or generate any great musical pieces?
When and how did formal education begin? Who were the intellectual giants in centuries past?
How did the early Church affect agriculture or science or political structures? How did it affect societal institutions?
What are the finest examples of European architecture? What inspired the greatest artists? Name a few great works of art. Imagine the art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance without the influence of the
Catholic Church. What would be left for art majors to study?
And then there’s my major. Literature. One of the first readings assigned to a literature major is The Dream of the Rood (the cross). Catholic influence can be seen in such works as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s plays. Because
was England Catholic for centuries before it was Protestant, even the literature that came after the reign of King Henry VIII contains remnants and imitations of Catholic Tradition. In more recent times, we have seen a revival of Catholic influence in the works of writers like Chesterton, Hopkins, Belloc, Tolkien, and Waugh. Another set of writers heavily influenced by Catholic thought are C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot.
As we reflect on these fields of study, we have a tendency to think only of examples from British and American culture. If we had the ability to travel to
Europe or other holy sites of the early Church, we would stand in awe of the breadth and depth of influence our Church has had on human existence. If we could peek into the rooms of monasteries in centuries past, we would see holy men meticulously copying great spiritual, literary and scholarly works.
We would see holy men and women farming the land, building schools and universities, writing journals and sermons, developing their ideas about theology and philosophy and psychology, commissioning architects and painters, influencing political leaders to seek peace and justice and truth, as well as nursing the sick and feeding the poor and building up every other social structure and institution.
Truly, the Church has been the Salt of the Earth.
If the purpose of salt is to bring out the flavors of the ingredients, then the
Catholic Church has fulfilled this calling. If the purpose of salt is to preserve the goodness of the ingredients, again, the Catholic Church has fulfilled this calling. All human experience has been touched, enhanced, and preserved through the contributions of the Church.
And every liberal arts graduate knows it.