Those of you who have been gathered around the Easter fire with me know that I use salt and rubbing alcohol in kindling the new fire. This was a trick that was taught to me by a pastor who showed me that a salt fire gives of no smoke or fumes to set off smoke detectors. In one of the various Gospel commentaries that I use, I learned that this is not something new. Cakes of salt were placed under the fuel and used as a catalyst in the village ovens throughout the Middle East. However, as it burns, it eventually is no longer useful for creating a fire. At that point, the salt cakes were indeed thrown out on the unpaved roads of the village, thereby creating a surface that was not slippery. Of course, we still salt our roads in our own day and age as a way to thaw the ice during the winter.
A catalyst is an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action. Jesus uses the image of salt as a catalyst to prompt us to provoke significant change in our society. We are the salt of the earth.
Jesus also speaks of hiding a lamp under a bushel basket. Again, creating a flame during Jesus’ time was a little more difficult than striking a match or using a cigarette lighter. One had to use a piece of flint to create a spark to light dry reeds. So these people did, in fact, place a basket over the lamp during the daylight hours lest a draft would extinguish the lamp. At night, the basket would be removed so that the lamp could light the house. Jesus compares us to a lamp to illuminate the goodness of our acts.
We Franciscans use these readings on the Feast of St. Dominic to remind us of his influence in the 13th century. Before St. Dominic and his followers, knowledge of God and of the world was taught in the great universities and monasteries of Europe. One had to gain access to the university or the monastery to gain access to knowledge. St. Dominic and his followers were mendicants like the Franciscans. They brought the knowledge that had been reserved to universities and monasteries to the common folk of their day. They functioned as catalysts for learning and lamps for the uneducated.
As we keep his feast, St. Dominic urges us to be a catalyst in our world, to provoke change and to bring the truth about God to those we serve.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator