Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. On 27th January each year, the world marks ‘Holocaust Memorial Day’ that falls on the anniversary of the liberation of Auchwitz concentration camp on the same date in 1945. It is an important date that remembers the unspeakable horrors of what happened in the holocaust and the people who suffered and died.
As I watched the Dublin event online, a thought troubled me. The rise of both Nazism and Communism that led to the deaths of millions, arose from countries and cultures that were at least nominally Christian. The disturbing truth is that the faith of baptised Christians in Germany and Russia had become so weak and disengaged that whole nations became complicit and blind to the terrible events that were unfolding. In the tsunami of human rights abuses that became normalised, where were the Christians to shout ‘STOP’? Notable exceptions include Maximillian Kolbe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others but tragically, most Christians were either passive to what was going on or complicit in what was happening. In the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, the witness of Christians had become like tasteless salt, allowing the surrounding culture to rot.
Here is an important lesson from history for us today. We are called to be salt of the earth and light to the world. Our faith is something very private and personal to each of us but, in the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, it can’t be hidden or remain secret. We must engage with our culture and take the risk in doing so. As a Church, we cannot retreat or stay silent in response to confusion, danger, hatred and the undermining of life itself.
As salt preserves food and keeps it fresh, so Christianity is meant to preserve what is best in our culture and society. To be conservative has become a dirty word lately but to be conservative is something good if it preserves or conserves what is good and prevents something from going bad. As salt preserves food, so we preserve the memory of Jesus, his mercy, his love, his proclamation of the gift of life and the Gospel’s power to save. Christians are called to convert the culture, not to imitate it.
Salt also seasons or flavours food. Christianity is meant to bring out the best in humanity, to give life flavour, joy and make it good. We too are called to go out and make a difference, to change the look and taste of the world through our faith and positive contributions. As salt stops food from rotting, so our Christian faith saves us from the decay of sin, vice and violence. This is something that clearly did not happen in the 20th century that saw two horrific world wars emerge in a nominally Christian Europe.
Our religious convictions are not, Jesus says, something only personal, individual and private: by their very nature, they are meant to have an impact on the broader society we are part of. If we think that our faith really makes no difference in the ‘real’ world, it goes flat. It has lost its special taste and lost its power to change. This would indeed be a tragedy for those directly affected by issues like climate change, the poor, victims of human trafficking and the unborn.
The world needs committed and vibrant Christians perhaps like never before for without them the world risks rotting and being plunged into darkness. Are we ready for the challenge?