You are the salt of the earth.
But if the earth loses its saltiness,
how can it be made salty again?
* * *
You are the light of the world…
let your light shine before others.
It reminded me of the frenzy that followed the crusades in the Middle Ages when spices were brought back from distant lands. What must it have been like to taste pepper for the first time—or cinnamon and garlic? It’s said salt was so highly valued that in England it was stored in the Tower of London, and to this day one of the many towers that make up that castle still bears that nickname: “the Salt Tower.” Such was the value of salt that only the highest nobility could partake of it—those lesser folk sat at a lower table “beneath the salt,” banned from its use.
A few months ago I had the good fortune to be accepted into the Pure North S’Energy program in Calgary, and in the course of a detailed diagnosis by the physician I was told, “You really need to add salt to your diet. Good salt. Iodized salt. It will really be beneficial.” And so I pondered reversing a decision that I’d observed for years.
And then, not so long ago, I had the pleasure of attending a silent retreat at Mt. St. Francis, in Cochrane. At the first breakfast, in the midst of the clinking knives and the sound of eating, I sprinkled salt on a plate of scrambled eggs. I’m not sure if it was the silence, or the mood of reflection generally, or some other factor entirely, but when I took that first bite the flavours came instantly alive. I tasted and experienced that humble meal in an entirely new way. Normally, this bite would have passed virtually unnoticed. But here I was “contemplating” the simple pleasure; taking the time to pause on something so basic and quotidian.
I wondered afterwards if this were the same with faith—if faith was salt to life? How many of us have taken it for granted? Left it while we pursued other goals, only to have it reappear, as though by coincidence or design? And how many of us remember to savour the taste of something that is simultaneously extraordinary and yet always within our grasp?
It got me thinking about the other things I might be taking for granted or not experiencing to the full. I paused to reflect on my family and the other gifts I’ve been given. I looked again at the feast of my own education. I was the first in my family to go to university, and hence there was never any pressure for me to attend beyond high school. Except from my mother. Her ferocious obsession that I would attend university made me enroll just so she could tell friends I’d gone. My goal was to quietly withdraw a few weeks later, but not before I’d briefly fulfilled her dream. What I didn’t know was that once you add the spice to learning, it is difficult to retreat. I became hooked for life and I’m still there.
And now, as President of St. Mary’s University College in Calgary—this small private, Catholic institution—I am taking the time to look at our students who are being inspired by great professors, in small classes and in a caring environment; professors who do not take for granted the extraordinary students in their midst. And because of this attention, the students flourish. Inspiration and achievement. Salt and light.
It is easy to take our gifts for granted. Easier still to become accustomed to their taste—to the meals we receive daily or even once a week at Mass. But it is critically important that we remember to reflect on—to taste—the gift that we have been given. The wonder is all around us, if only we can remember to savour it—and then reflect it back.
This article originally appeared in The Carillon, a publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary.