This new year so far has been a whirlwind.

I was reading a Washington columnist the other day who described the way things look from the nation’s capitol: “We are living through big history and no one here knows where it’s going or how this period ends. Everyone — left, right and center — feels the earth is unsteady under their feet. Too much is happening.”

I think we all feel this way, even across the country here in Los Angeles — the sense that things are unsettled and uncertain, that we don’t know what will happen next.

As I wrote in my column last week, so much of this is needless and could have been avoided. Should have been avoided. Because we are scaring good people who should not have to live that way.

In the midst of all this, it is important for us to stick together, to draw strength from one another and to keep our eyes on Jesus.

I was giving the homily the other day in our chapel here at the Archdiocesan Catholic Center, and the first reading was from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Let us … persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.”

It seems to me that this should be our “marching orders” in this time of transition and uncertainty. I said before the election that whoever we elect as our president, Jesus Christ is still our king. And that is still true. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. 

And as I was preparing for Mass this past Sunday, I found myself reflecting on our Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount. And again, I found “marching orders.” Jesus, speaking to each of us personally, said: “You are the salt of the earth. … You are the light of the world.”

This is our mission as Catholics. Each one of us has a part to play in that mission. No matter what is going on in this country, we are called to be salt and light.

These images that Jesus uses are interesting. Because salt and light do not really exist for their own sake. We don’t eat salt all by itself. We use salt to flavor other foods. The same thing is true with light. We shine a light so we can see when it’s dark.

Jesus is using these images to tell us that our lives are not are own. We belong to God and we are here to serve God’s purposes.

We are called — all of us — to be missionary disciples. No matter who we are or what our role is in the Church. Jesus is sending every one of us out into this world — to be salt and to be light.

He is sending us out to be the salt of the earth. He is calling us to add a “new flavor” to the world. To “season” the things of this world with a Christian perspective — with the wisdom of the Gospel, with the promise of God’s love and mercy. We are called to share Christ’s beautiful vision for human life and human society with everyone.

We cannot allow our Catholic identity to be “bleached out.” This is the temptation in our society, which is becoming deeply “secularized,” which is making God a “stranger” in the world he created.

As a society, we are losing our “taste” for God and the things of the Spirit. More and more we are turning away from the values and virtues that God gave us — saying these are no longer relevant to our government and economy, to our culture and our personal lives. 

And, as a result, people are turning inward. They’re becoming more selfish, more isolated. More insensitive and indifferent to the needs of others.

And the temptation is for us to just “blend in,” to lose what is distinctive about being Catholic, about being a follower of Christ. We cannot allow ourselves to just become bland, “anonymous” Christians. That is what that image of “salt” means to me.

We need to hold ourselves to the highest standards of Jesus in the way we act and the way we talk. Especially with those who disagree with us or hold different opinions.

Jesus calls us to love our enemies. When I think about the rhetoric coming from our political class and from the protest movements — we are a long way from that.

But our actions and our attitudes and our words — all of this matters. Because all of this contributes to the “human ecology,” the moral and spiritual environment in our society. We need to be salt and light and we need to call our neighbors to seek peace, justice and common ground.

Pray for me this week and I will pray for you. And let us keep praying for our country and our leaders, and let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and to help us to be salt and light in these troubling days.

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