Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hope for Salt

"If salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be restored? It is good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot."

I was sitting in the back row, shivering in wet muddy jeans and a wholly inadequate jacket, wishing I was closer to the fireplace. My back was aching from a previous fall in the ice, and my heavy jacket and gloves were now too soaked and muddy to use. I was very hungry. Father Michael Dolan had braved the icy roads to fill in at the last minute as celebrant for the St. George (Guilford) confirmation retreat mass in our Lodge. Frankly, I was too distracted by my discomfort to pay attention, until he proclaimed these words from the Gospel of Matthew.

Two hours earlier: I had gone to the kitchen to get wine and hosts for mass while supper was being served. I prepared myself a plate to eat after I got back from setting things up in the Lodge. I managed to wolf down the mashed potatoes before I left, thinking I'd be back in a few minutes. But getting to the Lodge was an exciting adventure, and not in a good way. As soon as I finished setting up for mass, instead of going back to eat supper, I set about trying to make the paths to the lodge and cabins safe. My enemy was a freezing mist, and I was in battle mode.

I salted the steps, the walkway, and the basketball court as I had already done twice earlier. But now it was dark, and colder, and slippier, and soon fifty teenagers would be coming through here. Salting doesn't work on a path in the snow, at least not for more than five minutes. Then I remembered the rolls of old carpeting Vinnie had stored in the loft of the big shed. I climbed up there, tossed down several rolls, getting last year's dried mud in my clothes, hair, and mouth in the process. And I was starving. Could I have felt any sorrier for myself?

Yes, I could! Minutes later, I was laying on my back in icy, muddy, salty water. I had slipped trying to lay the first rug down. I learned how to do it better after that. Eventually, I got some of the teen peer ministers to help finish making a carpeted path all the way down the hill. By then, it was almost time for mass. I scrambled for another bucket of salt to re-do the steps and door areas. I had just enough time to change into a dry jacket before mass.

What good is salt that has no flavor? Isn't it interesting that Jesus did not say that tasteless salt is useless! In fact, salt is so useful around here these days, the stores are running out of it, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the taste. It's precisely so that we can trample it underfoot that we need it so badly. As I sat in the back row, in all my bedraggled glory, I realized that Jesus is not willing to discount any kind of service. Jesus will even use salt with no flavor.

These are words of great consolation to anyone who feels diminished or no longer useful. If aging means I can't do some things I used to do, if I lack the skills or training or power to do the glamorous, exciting, successful things I'd like to do, it's not to say I have nothing to contribute. If I had not thrown out salt to be trampled underfoot, we could not have got to the Lodge for mass last night.

If there is hope for salt, how much more is there hope for us!