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Salty – Br. Mark Brown

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Br. Mark Brown

Mark 9:38-50

Although it doesn’t seem possible, this is already the fifth year of our Monastic Internship Program, in which we invite young people to live alongside us to share our rhythm of life: prayer, worship, work, service, life in community.  We have the largest group ever this year: a total of eight, four here and four at Emery House. They come from Australia, Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, New York, Maryland and right here in Massachusetts.  The program is for me a source of great joy and satisfaction.  One of the deeply gratifying things about it is the sense that in participating in the spiritual formation of young people we are participating in the future: the future of the Church, the future of the world.

The internship program is also a source of continual amazement: this year’s group is nothing like any other year’s.  Each group of interns has brought to our life a unique combination of qualities and gifts, its own particular vitality, its own particular flavor, its own savor, its own particular “salt”.  Jesus is talking about salt today: “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” [Mark 9: 49-50]

This may be one of the more obscure sayings of Jesus.  Sometimes I think he must have taken pleasure in leaving people scratching their heads. Be salted with fire? Have salt in yourselves? “You are the salt of the earth…” [Mat. 5:13]  Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another?

This community that we are, this living, praying, worshiping, serving community of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist changes flavor each year as we absorb these wonderful young people into our life together.  And, we hope and pray, each one of them will absorb something of our flavor, our “salt” into their lives when they go from this place.

It is not only their gifts and skills and personalities and energies that they bring to us. They also bring Christ with them: they are Christ bearers to us, as we are to them—as we all are Christ bearers to one another (so imperfectly, so incompletely!). And there’s something about this that is like salt, the way salt works in food. Salt is absorbed into our food in such a way that the flavors come alive: in a way, the food becomes its truest self, it reaches its full potential with the addition of just the right amount of salt.

In a way, Christ himself is our salt.  “For everyone will be salted with fire.”  We are salted with his fire.  John the Baptist, who baptized in water, speaks of Jesus baptizing us in Holy Spirit and in fire. [Matthew 3:11] We absorb this fire, his salt, into our being. There is a mysterious interchange going on, a mutual absorption: he in us, we in him. He into us; we into him.  We become our fullest, truest selves as we absorb his salt, his fire into our being.  He in us; we in him. He into us; we into him.  Moving together toward fullness of life, fullness of truth. Might it be that the purpose of our lives is this simple but mysterious process: absorbing Christ into our being, as we are absorbed into him?

Part of the wonder of this mutual absorption in Christ is that we do not cease to be ourselves. On the contrary: salt is still salt, even when it is absorbed mysteriously and invisibly into the stew. Life in community is like that: we don’t lose our unique identity in community.  On the contrary: we become more of who we are, our truest selves, which contributes to the rich, complex “flavor” of the community. The goal of our internship program is not for these young men and women to become like us—it is for them to become more like themselves, their true selves as they are absorbing the salt of the fire of Christ into their very beings, their true selves as they are being absorbed into Christ.

Absorbing Christ into our own beings and his taking our humanity into himself does not come without times of testing—and times of testing can be, well, times of testing!  Jesus’ own taking of our humanity, the salt of our humanity, took him through the sufferings of the Cross on Golgotha.  Some days are like that in the life of Christian faith, even in community—I’m afraid there’s no getting around it.

Now this isn’t just about Brothers and interns: it’s about everyone. Each and every one of you in your baptism was taken into his Body, absorbed into his Body—and this process continues day by day. Day by day, week by week, each one of you is absorbing the salt and fire of Christ into your very being. And becoming your truest, fullest self.  And your true self is what you bring, this is what you contribute to whatever situation, whatever community, whatever configuration of human endeavor you find yourself in: at home, at work, at leisure.

Some people seem to be especially salted with the fire of Christ.  Who couldn’t help being moved by Pope Francis this past week?  It was his words.  It was his actions.  But it was that mysterious something about how he embodies Christ in his own person that struck me most.  Some people seem to have a special charism or gift to embody Christ in a noticeable way; but all of us are Christ bearers (even if imperfectly)—especially as we open ourselves more fully to the salt of his fire.

“Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give thee…”  I love the old translation of Peter’s words in Acts [3:6].  Peter then commands a lame man to “stand up and walk!”We may or may not have gold and silver, but we have something more precious.  Salt, sodium chloride, was once worth its weight in gold—it was used to pay salaries. But the salt of the fire of Christ that makes us his new creation, that makes us who we truly are, is more precious still.

Whether we have silver and gold, or have them not, what we have absorbed into our beings, the One whom we have enshrined in our very beings, in our hearts and minds and sinews: such as we have we give to the world.  The One whom we have, the One who has us, we give to the world—whether we stand on our own Golgothas (some days are like that)–or stand on Mounts of Transfiguration (some are like that) –or beside a still or stormy sea, or in temple, hovel or palace. Such as we have, such as we are, we give–so that the whole world may stand up and walk in the light and fire of Christ.

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