Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: Truth and Love, Light and Salt

With the invitation to be united to Christ to broaden the light of the love of God et his wisdom which as the salt gives savor and meaning to life

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Truth and Love: light and salt

Salt and Light: Taste of the earth and Light of the world

Roman Rite – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 9, 2020

Is 58:7-10; Ps 112; 1 Cor 2: 1-5; Mt 5:13-16


Ambrosian Rite

Are 66:18b-22; Ps 32: Rm4:13-17; Jh 4:46-54

Holy emotions.


1. Salt[1]and Light[2] for others.

 Last Sunday, if the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple had not been celebrated, we would have started reading the «Sermon on the Mount», which occupies chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Therefore, skipping the initial passage of the Beatitudes (5,1-12), the Gospel of this 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time describes two characteristics of those who want to follow Jesus: to be salt and light.

In fact, today the Redeemer says to his disciples: «You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world» (Mt 5,13.14). With these meaningful images, Christ wants to convey to the disciples of then and today the meaning of their mission and their testimony. In this regard, Pope Francis comments: “The greatest witness of the Christian is to give life as Jesus did, that is, martyrdom. But there is also another testimony, that of everyday life, which starts in the morning, when you wake up, and ends in the evening, when you go to sleep. Salt and light are for the others.”

It seems a small thing, but the Lord does miracles and wonders with a few things. It is therefore necessary to have an attitude of «humility», which consists in seeking only to be salt and light: salt for others, light for others, because salt does not flavor itself, but it is always at the service. The light does not illuminate itself; it is always at the service «(Pope Francis, Homily at the Mass – Casa Santa Marta. June 18, 2018).

Even today, in Middle Eastern culture, salt evokes different values ​​such as alliance, solidarity, life and wisdom. Light is the first work of God the Creator and is the source of life; the same Word of God is compared to light, as the psalmist proclaims, «Lamp for my steps is your word, light on my way» (Ps 119,105).

In the Liturgy of the Word of this Sunday, the prophet Isaiah says: “If you open your heart to the hungry, if you will satisfy the afflicted of heart, then your light will shine in the darkness, your darkness will be like the noon «(58.10). Wisdom summarizes in itself the beneficial effects of salt and light: in fact, the disciples of the Lord are called to give new «flavor» to the world, and to preserve it from corruption, with the wisdom of God which shines fully on the face of the Son because He is the «true light that illumines every man» (Jn 1,9). United with him, Christians can spread amid the darkness of indifference and selfishness the light of God’s love, true wisdom that gives meaning to human existence and action.

The light of which Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel is that of faith, a free gift of God, who comes to illuminate the heart and the intelligence: «God who said: ‘Shine the light from the darkness’, also shone in our hearts, to make the knowledge of the divine glory that shines on the face of Christ shine «(2 Cor 4: 6). This is the reason why Jesus’ words take on an extraordinary importance when he explains his identity and his mission: “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life «(Jn 8:12).

The personal encounter with Christ illuminates life with a new light, walks us on the right path and commits us to be his witnesses. The new way that comes to us from looking at the world and at people makes us penetrate more deeply into the mystery of faith, which is not only a set of theoretical statements to be accepted and ratified with intelligence, but an experience to be assimilate, a truth to be lived, the salt and light of all reality (cf. Veritatis splendor, 88).

   2. The salt of the martyrs.

 Let’s remember the persecuted Christians of the first centuries who were brought into the Colosseum for the amusement of the ancient Romans who wanted to experiment strong emotions. Torn to pieces by the lions, the martyrs were the «salt” for the longing palate of the spectators; crucified on burning wood they were torches of «light” for the greedy eyes of the public. The pagans of the time, but also those of today, wanted a show with lights and exciting flavors.

The Christians came «on stage» not as actors, but as martyrs knowing to be spectacle to the angels and to the world.[3] I would also add that they were also visible to God, whose » eyes are always on the righteous » (Ps 33/34, 16) and therefore in the first place on the martyrs,[4] whose blood was the seed of other Christians, an offering of freedom and a sign of hope that becomes a reality.

In fact, the martyrs are par excellence the salt and the light of the world. Of course, they were so in the heroic way, but we too are called to be witnesses (the Greek word «martyr» means witness) without worrying about herculean deeds. This is not about doing extraordinary things. It is a matter of salt, to be salt that gives flavor. The salt is the capacity to suffer, the sign of the Covenant. The salt shows an adult faith that does not flee in front of the cross, has patience in suffering, understands the sense of suffering, and sees, transfigured in death, resurrection and life.

The method of the Christian testimony is dictated and illustrated by the heart of Christ which, when pierced, immediately responds with blood and water and with a love that goes to the end. For this reason, the paradigm and the fulfillment of the Christian testimony is martyrdom. Martyrdom contradicts the logic of the world, because the martyr responds to the fear of death that hates life, with a love for life not afraid to die because the life of the martyr is the risen Christ. Christ has conquered death and sin. Martyrdom today, as always, is the greatest Cultural Revolution that can happen. The martyr is an eliminated witness, a deleted witness. But in the logic of the cross the elimination accentuates the power of the testimony and the expression of charity. The Christian martyr is indeed the icon of the heart of Christ who, hated and pierced, exceeds in the charity of forgiveness, the gift of life and mercy. The martyr becomes not only a witness of Christ’s love, but also of the excess of this love in a superabundance of charity and gratuity that spills over the edge of death and hate.

Let’s look as closely as we can to Christ on the Cross. If we are not standing next to the cross like Mary and John, «at least» let’s embrace the foot of the Cross of the Savior as did Mary Magdalene so that we are transformed in Him and He lives in us.

By the acceptance of our daily cross, our life polishes, crops and sizes all that in us is an obstacle to our adherence to Him.  For this reason, it is in weaknesses, hardships and failures that the mission for which we were born is fulfilled. Just when we are nothing the power of God explodes in us. Let’s not despise anything of our sufferings, anxieties, failures and frailties. It is in those moments that we are salt, light and yeast. This is because we are what we are: poor clay in the creative hands of God. It is enough to have a total and constant abandonment to the love of God who works in us and, with our small or great suffering, turns on the light for the world.

Jesus speaks in simple terms, starts from the everyday experiences that everyone can understand and, therefore, uses the images of salt and light. Salt in those days allowed food to be preserved and it was a symbol of loyalty and continuity; light made ​​life possible and it was its symbol.

  3)  Christian identity.

“You are the salt … you are the light … “. Jesus first announces the new identity given by God to those who listen to him and follow him. His disciples and all Christians are, and not by their own choice or merit, light and salt for all mankind.

In this identity of Christians, it is written a task, a mission, not as a duty that is added after or from the outside, but as a natural consequence of what we are.  As it is for salt and light, so we are for the entire world a sign that God exists and is the Father and that Christ is the incarnated Light, who gives to man the light of the eyes and the heart.

In saying «You are the salt of the earth,» Jesus tells us that the human nature corrupted by sin has become tasteless, but through our ministry of testimony, the grace of the Holy Spirit will regenerate and preserve the world. For this reason, the Savior teaches us the virtues of the Beatitudes, the ones that are the most necessary and the most effective for us who want to look like Him.  Those who are meek, humble, merciful do not confine in themselves the good works that they have done. They instead make these beautiful springs gush also for the good of others. Those who have a pure heart, are peacemakers and suffer persecution because of truth; they are the persons who devote their life for the good of all.  If we melt like salt, we give flavor to the life of the world and we build a culture of life and a civilization of love.

When the salt dissolves in the food, it gives it taste. When Christ dies, the humanity is reconciled to God who gives meaning to life that then assumes fullness of meaning and taste along with safe direction.

The Christian who becomes a witness and therefore a martyr, does not rebel in front of the suffering and the injustice that he suffers. From him the world receives a credible sign of eternal life (in fact one can’t accept death if he does not have within him the fullness of life) and every man’s work and action are purified. Christian life becomes a liturgy in which, through it, Christ offers men to God after having enlightened them and purified their actions.

      4)  Martyr, the light of a friend who bears witness to the true Light.

It is true: it seems that violence, totalitarianism, persecution and blind brutality will prove stronger silencing the voice of the witnesses of faith that can appear as the defeated of history. But the risen Jesus illuminates our fragile testimony and makes us understand the meaning of martyrdom.

In the defeat and in the humiliation of those who suffer because of the Gospel, acts a force that the world does not know: “When I am weak – says the apostle Paul – then I am strong» (2 Cor 12:10).

It is the power of love, defenseless and victorious even in defeat. It is the force that challenges and triumphs over death.

“You are the light of the world.» Jesus said to his disciples and repeats to us, his disciples today. One is no light if he is not in love: «He who loves his brother abides in the light” says St. John, and if we are in the light, this light illuminates more the needs of others. Jesus is identified with the poor and for the Christians this gives a new light on the reality of the poor. Jesus who pronounces over the bread the words: “This is my Body,” said these same words also of the poor: “You did it to me.» And it is as if He says, «That beggar, in need of a little of bread, the poor man who stretches out his hand, that’s me.» Jesus asks us to have this attitude: to help the needy to be the light of the world. In a humanity which is dominated by indifference and selfishness, Jesus asks us to love to be light. He teaches that love is such as to illuminate the lamp on the lamp post. In a humanity mired in a vacuum and that constantly challenges death, salt is needed to give back to it the flavor and the enjoyment of life. No one eats one tablespoon of salt but puts it in the food to make it tastier. We must not love only ourselves and become selfish and self-centered, but we must put our love in others. It is with mutual love that life acquires taste, meaning and gives joy and happiness.

In the Old Testament the prophet Isaiah reveals the concrete way of being light: through orderly effective and concrete charity that bends toward the poor and the suffering: » If you remove the yoke from among you, the accusing finger, and malicious speech; if you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall become like midday (Isaiah 58: 9-10).

In the friendly light of us Christian men find the true light: the light of true life.

5) The martyrdom of virginity.

All our lights are turned on in the martyrdom of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross and, of course, in the martyrdom which was its source: the martyrdom of Christ the Light.

Christ calls everyone to be witness of this life. A life in which every moment , even the most hidden, simple and trivial, is a good and beautiful work of God in us so that men, looking at us , can give glory to God and so that blasphemy against the name of God spoken by many in front of death is converted into a blessing .

In this the Consecrated Virgins are of example.  By offering their virginity they become a special ostensory of Christ like the Virgin Mary. These women are martyrs on the model of Mary, Virgin and Mother, because virginity is not to give up love but to give oneself completely to Love, to God-Charity in whose heart all are welcome. They show that by living a virginal vocation one arrives to the transfiguration of oneself and of the relationships with others lived in the same way as Our Lady lived them. They remind to all the Christian the vocation to be the intact dwelling place of God.


Spiritual Reading

“You are the salt of the Earth… You are the light of the world”


“Since the whole Church is missionary, and the work of evangelization is a basic duty of the People of      God, this sacred synod invites all to a deep interior renewal; so that, having a vivid awareness of their own responsibility for spreading the Gospel, they may do their share in missionary work among the nations. As members of the living Christ, incorporated into Him and made like unto Him through baptism and through confirmation and the Eucharist, all the faithful are duty – bound to cooperate in the expansion and spreading out of His Body, to bring it to fullness as soon as may be (Eph. 4:13).
Therefore, all sons of the Church should have a lively awareness of their responsibility to the world; they should foster in themselves a truly catholic spirit; they should spend their forces in the work of evangelization. And yet, let everyone know that their first and most important obligation for the spread of the Faith is this: to lead a profoundly Christian life. For their fervor in the service of God and their charity toward others will cause a new spiritual wind to blow for the whole Church, which will then appear as a sign lifted up among the nations (cf. Is. 11:12), «the light of the world» (Matt. 5:14) and «the salt of the earth» (Matt. 5:13). This testimony of a good life will more easily have its effect if it is given in unison with other Christian communities, according to the norms of the Decree on Ecumenism”.


[1] SALT, which is normally used on foods to make them tastier and to preserve them, has these symbolic meanings especially in the biblical world: 1. The salt of the covenant and solidarity.  In ancient East there was a covenant of salt, a synonym for an inviolable covenant. 2. The salt of love. “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another» (Mk 9, 50). 3. The spice of life. In the Middle East a newborn baby is rubbed with salt to give him vigor and vitality (Ezek. 16.4), and to keep away the evil spirits from his life. 4. The salt of wisdom. We indicate a person without intelligence saying that he is “tasteless.» To put the salt of intelligence and reflection in one’s words means to become people who can advise, support, comfort and guide others (Col 4:6). 5. The salt of death. Saltwater doesn’t quench, salt poured on the wound burns, the salt flats of Dead Sea don’t support life. In ancient times, in the East as among the Greeks and Romans, when the victors wanted to considered dead forever a city conquered and razed to the ground, they poured salt on its ruins. 6. The salt of the curse. Throughout the Bible it is repeatedly spoken of the “curse of salt”: Dt 29.22; Jer 17.6. 7. The salt of purification. Sacrificial victims were sprinkled with salt to make them pure.

[2] LIGHT that illuminates and warms has these meanings: 1. It is the first creature that God wanted to create «Let there be Light.» 2. God is Light, «He is light and in him there is no darkness» (1 Jh 1:5). 3. The Word of God is light: «Your word is a lamp to our feet» (Ps 109.105). 4. Jesus proclaims himself the true light of the world come to light every man (John 1:5; 8:12). 5. Light source life: the world plunged into a perpetual darkness would die as a plant dies without light.

[3]“  For as I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike” (1 Cor 4:9).

[4] Tertullian writes: «We multiply whenever we are harvested by you: the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians» (Apol. 50.13: CCL 1,171).

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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