Mary is both light and salt for families

Madonna with child and angels, Giovanni Battista Salv da Sassoferrato. Mary, as a mother, is the light and salt of the family, highlighting her children’s strengths and helping them overcome their weaknesses. (WikiCommons)

One of the gifts mothers give the world is the clarity with which they see the uniqueness of an individual. I will never forget the moment my English teacher, mother of nine and beloved matriarch of our small high school, realized there were twins in my senior English section.

For three years, she had seen these almost identical young women crowding through the hallways, sitting at Mass, competing at track. For a whole year, as freshmen, they had sat daily in her classroom, in separate sections.

We, their classmates, spoke of them as “the Kellys” and “the Kelly girls.”

And yet, on the first day of our senior year, as Mrs. Gunset read the alphabetical roll call, she looked down at the two remarkably similar faces looking up at her from adjacent seats and asked with genuine surprise: “Erin Kelly … Heather Kelly … wait, are you related?”

We erupted in laughter, but I realized in an instant that her mother’s gaze had really only ever seen two very distinct persons, Erin competitive, eager, responsible; Heather peaceable, kind, artistic.

Christ tells us we are “light” and “salt” (Mt 5:13-14). These images carry many meanings; the one I would like to explore, in proximity to Mother’s Day and to May, the month of our Mother Mary, is the capacity of both light and salt to draw out what is unique.

A scene from Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark exquisitely depicts this capacity of light. The main character watches sunrise from an Arizona canyon:

The red sun rose rapidly above the tops of the blazing pines, and its glow burst into the gulf, about the very doorstep on which Thea sat. It bored into the wet, dark underbrush. The dripping cherry bushes, the pale aspens, and the frosty piñons were glittering and trembling, swimming in the liquid gold. All the pale, dusty little herbs of the bean family, never seen by anyone but a botanist, became for a moment individual and important, their silky leaves quite beautiful with dew and light.

Darkness conceals “individuality and importance.” Illumination reveals it.

Salt has a similar effect: one spiritual writer explains that when a cook applies salt effectively, one tastes not salt but the true and rich flavor of the distinct food. Salt makes steak taste more like steak, spinach more like spinach, and potatoes more like potatoes. Salt even elicits the sweetness in desserts!

A mother, light and salt of a family, supports the unique strengths of each child and helps him to overcome his weaknesses. Her loving gaze sees the particularities that escape less attentive eyes, sees what each child can become.

Our Lady looks on each of us in just this way. This May, with little loving aspirations and acts of virtue, let us return her gaze and undertake to become a little more fully and freely the unique saint she knows we can be.


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