The third graders at Roanoke Catholic and I were chatting about the various bodies of water that we hear about in the gospels. Among them, the Salt Sea, also known as the Dead Sea, certainly intrigues the nine-year-old mind. When the children learned that I myself have not only seen the Dead Sea, but have actually gone swimming in it, they sat speechless, mouths agape, eyes wide with wonder.
“Did you taste the water?” Honestly, I tried to avoid it. But I am not a dexterous swimmer, so I wound up with a mouthful, and it was disgusting. It takes the whole rest of the day, and multiple bottles of Deer Park, to get the foul salty savor out of your mouth.
Indeed, the salts of the Dead Sea are notoriously impure. The ancients appear to have had a process for purifying the salt of the Dead-Sea water. They dug large holes in the clayey sand on the shore and filled them up with seawater. Then they let the sun burn off some of the water, until the little pool was just five feet deep. At this point in the evaporation process, the most pure salt lay in a crust at the bottom of the pool. So they would wade in and dig the salt out with their feet.
Even after using this purification process, and subsequently washing the salt with fresh water, the salt of the Dead Sea still had to be used promptly, or it would go bad, decay, become insipid and useless as a preservative, or for flavor. We are accustomed to salt shakers sitting around indefinitely without any problems, because we have highly purified salt. But that could lead us into a fool’s paradise, when it comes to understanding the Lord Jesus’ little parable about insipid salt. Let me explain.
We might think we live in a world in which salt does not go bad, ie. the great, advanced, modern world. “In this world, salt doesn’t go bad, no matter how long it sits around unused,” we might imagine. Lord Jesus had to warn people against the salt of their faith going bad and turning into a putrid nothingburger of spiritual sloth. Jesus had to exhort people to vigilance, daily prayer, scrupulous execution of the divine commandments, and rigorous examinations of conscience motivated by fear of hell—He had to preach that way, which seems severe to us, because He lived in an unstable, backwards kind of world, when people weren’t as nice as they are now.
But now we can keep our spiritual salt in a shaker by the stove, and maybe not touch it for weeks, or months, or even years—maybe become practically a stranger at the local parish church—and still our faith will be salty whenever we need it, like when a loved one dies or we face a crisis, etc.
What a fool’s paradise! As if our spiritual salt were so pure.
The love of Christ is the salt of my soul. It is the one true source of vigor and hope and love that I have. It is the most wonderful gift I have ever received. And the most exciting challenge that has ever been laid at my feet. Without the love of Christ, who can I even claim to be? What hope would I have? What direction could I really go?
Christ’s love is the salt that makes everything else flavorful, keeps everything else from turning putrid. But if this salt of Christ’s love itself decays in my soul, dissipated by lack of use, because I miss Mass out of laziness, or never go to Confession, or never pray and make sacrifices for souls—if the salt of my soul becomes insipid, and my Christianity becomes lame, where will I find something to salt it with? Can I salt my Christian soul with video games or a shopping spree? Can I salt myself with sex or a new car or a steak dinner?
No, because these other things do not really salt my life, so as to make it savory and preserve it from spoiling. Which means I have got to keep shaking my salt shaker of Christian love regularly, with discipline, to keep the salt on my soul fresh and pure.
Listen, I know that some priests get annoying. Frankly, I don’t much like the priest here. The priest at my parish cluster annoys me more than anyone else I have ever known in my entire life.
But even with an annoying priest to deal with, I still want my church to be like a second home to me. I want it to be one of my most familiar places. If Father decided to change the upholstery in the confessional, I want to notice that. I want to say, “Hey, Father! You reupholstered the kneeler! Bless me, for I have sinned. It’s been two weeks since my last confession…” If Father uses Eucharistic Prayer IV, instead of Eucharistic Prayer III, or Eucharistic Prayer I, I want to notice that. I want to walk up after Mass and say, “Hey, Father! Why’d you do that? Why’d you use Eucharistic Prayer IV? You only use Eucharistic Prayer IV like twice a year, max. You’re so boring, you almost always use Eucharistic Prayer III, except on Solemnities, when you use Eucharistic Prayer I. What’s up with all that, Father?”
Familiar. Like a second home. My parish church.
How to shake the spiritual salt shaker and keep the salt fresh? Frequent the church. Frequently.
Because the sacraments keep us fresh in the love of Christ. The sacraments preserve the life of grace within us. And being at church, week in and week out, keeps us close to each other. It keeps us open to others who may need help.
Lord, salt us with the fire of your love! Keep us close to You and to Your Church! Never let us grow insipid by being separated from You.