by Laurie Gudim
The Feast Day of Leo the Great
After what for me was a very disheartening presidential election, it was a joy to find on Facebook this morning several posts from Church leaders. The gist of all of them was that, acknowledging that the government will not help us, it will be up to us as the Church to become even more thoroughly the hands and heart of Christ in the world. We will need to step up our efforts to help of those who have fallen into poverty, to work for justice for those who are oppressed, to take in those who are homeless, and to companion those who are prisoners. We will need to become flexible and generous, and to return to the model of Christianity that existed before the Church became a state religion clear back when Constantine became enamored of the Christian God.
And so I am reminded that Jesus was born into an occupied country, that his people suffered under an oppressive foreign government, and that his movement was the most basic, grass-roots endeavor it is possible to imagine. His disciples included the marginalized of his society – tax collectors, women of poor repute, people who had been lame or blind, laborers and lepers. And it was to this riffraff that he gave the Great Commission. It was they he commanded to be his Body in the world.
Today in our calendar of Holy Men and Women we remember Pope Leo the Great, who was in Rome from 440 to 461, when Constantine had moved his empire to Constantinople and the government of Italy was also situated elsewhere. He is known for his contribution to the Council of Chalcedon – but also, and less famously, for interceding for the people of his city with two sets of nasty occupying forces – the Huns and the Vandals.
“You are the earth’s salt,” says Jesus in the Gospel reading for today. “You are the world’s light.” Being salt – genuine and big-hearted and willing to speak our truth – many of us will need to grieve. And we will need to be frightened and angry about what has happened to this country. But then we will need to find and to follow the current of love that emerges from the place within us where Christ dwells. That place of salt and light will lead us to listen compassionately to one another. Whether we celebrate the results of this election or mourn, we will need to listen to one another. And that will lead to our reaching out, as the Body of Christ to all those who need us in every corner of the land.
I imagine Pope Leo the Great looking out at the fires of the invaders from his balcony in Rome and despairing. I imagine him praying. Then I imagine him tapping into that place in which he was salt and light. That wondrous, generative center from which Christ could shine forth through him would have lit up the whole city.
In Christian community, compassionately reaching out, imagining the best of one another, forgiving and helping one another, we make our church gatherings truly the Body of Christ. Then we can reach out to people who have fallen into poverty. We can walk in solidarity with those who have been marginalized and work for the rights and well-being of those whose voices are often silenced. And we can speak truth to power. Always we can speak truth to power. In these ways we are salt for the world. In these ways our lights shine.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.