Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:11-16
I must admit that I don’t really know what it is to be reviled by the world, nor have I experienced the reality of honest-to-goodness persecution. This is probably the case for most of us…we skate through life, we have our sharp turns, bumps and occasional spills, but for the most part our scars are only superficial, easily bandaged and usually leave indelible marks of character upon our bodies and faces. We are transformed by our trials and are usually able to provide a witness to faith and perseverance by our dogged persistence in the midst of adversity…albeit mild adversity.
No…revilement and persecution are rarely personal…attacks seem to come in the form of false perceptions of others and, more frequently, the sense that somehow one just doesn’t quite “fit in” in certain circumstances. I feel this most often when I go to the mall…so I don’t go anymore. There was a time when I was much more consumer than Catholic, when I was more at home in a shop than the sanctuary of the Church. I blended in amongst the shoppers and perusers of goods. I found my comfort amongst those like me, and felt a sense of belonging and unity of purpose with all those “beautiful people” who seem to be at home wherever they go. That was such a long time ago…
Things have changed, and I’d say for the better. When we venture out as a family, we are no longer “of the world…” We obviously don’t fit in. And it’s hard to pretend that you don’t see the raised eyebrows, or hear the whispers or notice the wagging fingers as they count: 1…2…3…4…5…6…children?! When they ask “are they all yours?!” my husband and I get a rather perverse pleasure in answering “No…there are three missing…” It usually silences them, unless they persist in those silly questions which require our silly answers, and we usually just smile and move on. We don’t go out often, but when we do we always call attention to ourselves, not by bad behavior…the children are perfect ladies and gentlemen…no…it’s the sheer size of our family.
Last night was just such a night. After two really hard days of freezing temperatures, a limited budget and thereby limited sources of heat, no water due to frozen pipes because the house isn’t insulated nor warm enough, we were really stretched to the limit. But it was payday and after many, many hours of work and determination, my husband and son were able to defrost the pipes and restore running water. Every dish in the house was dirty. The floors were unmopped. No one had showered for two days and the toilets…well…let’s not talk about that. Let’s just say we were jubilant…jubilant…when the water came on. My dear husband decided to take the entire family out to dinner…an Asian buffet (if you have a lot of children, you know this is the most economical way to dine!)
Now…if you ever need a boost to your self-esteem, take a large family to a Chinese restaurant. These beautiful people just can’t stay away from the children. Waitress after waitress came to the table, counted the children, exclaimed over them and told us how blessed we are…yes…who would know more than those who have lived in a land where the sanctity of life is not respected, where procreation is mandated/limited by the government. They are happy, always happy to see our children. No sneers, no raised eyebrows, no nasty comments…just joyful praise and acceptance.
Oh, that those who live in the “land of the free and home of the brave” could be so accepting! Alas, we rarely appreciate those things that come to us so easily, and so many throw away life and happiness, hand over fist…
As we left, the cashier, a lovely Chinese woman who appeared to be maybe in her late 50s or early 60s, once again complimented us on our large family. She said, with a sad smile, that she, too was from a large family of 5 children…and though the words weren’t spoken…it seemed we all exchanged sad smiles in realization that the land of her birth, that formerly fruitful land…no longer exists.
It was then that I realized that our presence…our simply being there…was, in a small way, a fitting analogy of salt and light. We give flavor to a tasteless world with this beautiful bouquet of children. We are a city on a hill…conspicuous by our size, our presence, our witness to life. I don’t mean to sound prideful…I’m by no means made holy by being the mother of many…our Lady only had One. No…I simply mean that I understand that we needn’t preach loudly or forcefully. Our lives, our presence can be salt and light for the rest of the world, if we are willing to risk being different. I praise God that we, perhaps, brought even a sliver of joy to those women in that restaurant last night. I praise God, too, for the poor perceptions that my “free” brothers and sisters may have, because they remind us of how we are “in the world, but not of it.” May God help us to preserve our flavor…may we always be ready to let our light shine, wherever we may be…