Be the difference

Editor’s note: Father Ed Schnur provided this text of a homily he delivered the weekend of Feb. 9. 

When I was a student at Saint Meinrad, one of the basic rules or principles that I remember from our homiletics class was that a preacher should never make the homily about himself. I remember the priest who taught the class said a preacher should never use the word “I” in his homily. I have always tried to follow this rule or principle when preparing a homily. Today, though, I am going to break this rule and begin this homily with the word “I.”

I meet with a group of men who have made the Cursillo retreat at 5:45 a.m. on Friday mornings in a meeting room at Sacred Heart School in Evansville. I often stay afterwards for Mass at 8 a.m. at Sacred Heart Church.

This past Friday morning as I’m driving home — rather than feeling refreshed or rejuvenated — I’m feeling overcome with despair. I’m feeling distressed and depressed and disturbed about the state of our country. I’m feeling there is no real dialogue or any real desire for dialogue among people. No one seems to want to solve problems and work out differences. There seems to be so much “us” vs. “them.” I am overcome with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. I’m discouraged and disheartened.

I am driving along St. Joe Avenue, several blocks north of West Franklin Street, and I notice a bench next to the bus stop shelter at the corner of North St. Joe and West Iowa Street. I have driven past this bus stop and this bench lots and lots of times. But the advertising message on the back of the bench seemed to subtly catch my attention on Friday morning.

The first line of the message was three words; it simply stated, “Be the Difference.” “Be the Difference.” Those three words really hit me, and I reflected on them all the way home.

I’m discouraged and distressed by what’s happening all around me — how it is affecting our society, our culture, our country. I’m worried about how it is affecting us adults and our young people — our kids — our students in our schools. What’s happening is not having a positive effect on our kids; I see it firsthand.

After reading the message on that bus stop bench and reflecting on it, I decided that message on Friday morning was meant for me – to get me out of my funk – and it has challenged me to work on being the difference in our world. Each of us needs to be the difference in our community, our state and our country. It’s got to start with us.

What happened to me on Friday morning ties in perfectly with today’s gospel. Jesus is commissioning us — as his disciples — to be “salt of the earth” and “light to the world.” In other words, we are to “be the difference.”

In the days of Jesus, salt was used mainly for two purposes. It was used to preserve food — especially meat — that would otherwise spoil quickly. As followers, we are to be preservatives to the world. We are to preserve the world from the evil that is present in our society. We are to preserve our society from ungodly people who give in to the temptations of the sins of greed, power and wealth.

Salt was also used then — as it is now — to enhance the flavor of food. In the same way that salt enhances the flavor of food, the followers of Jesus are to stand out as those who enhance the flavor of life in this world.

Christians living under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in obedience to Christ can influence the world for good — just as salt has a positive influence on the flavor of the food it seasons. Where there is strife and conflict, we are to be peacemakers. Where there is sorrow and sadness, we are to offer some hope, comfort and healing. Where there is hatred, we are to demonstrate the love of God by returning good for evil.

When Jesus says we are to be light to the world, Jesus is saying that our good works are to shine for all to see. The presence of light in darkness is something that is obvious. The presence of Christians in the world must be like a light in the darkness.

The truth of God’s word brings light to the darkened hearts of sinful people. And our good deeds must be evident for all to see — to bring others hope. Christians are to look out for others — for those who are overlooked and forgotten, for those who live on the margins of society, for those who are discriminated against.

To “be the difference” — to be salt, to be light — means that we must make hard choices and not compromise or settle for that which is more convenient or comfortable. Rather, everything we do must be pleasing to the Lord; we are to humbly obey the commandment of Jesus to love and to love unconditionally.

If we are to be the difference, and if we are to make a difference in our world, we cannot depart from the Spirit-led lifestyle of genuine discipleship. Only by remaining focused on Christ and being obedient to Him can we expect to remain salt and light in the world.

Father Ed Schnur is Pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Poseyville and St. Wendel Parish in St. Wendel.