Jesus came into the world to help us learn how to live a good and successful life. He gave us the formula for a just and lasting peace. He taught us the basic truths we need if we are to build a just society where people, who have many differences, can live together in an ordered peace.
But this is not our permanent home. We are here for less than a 100 years, and then we must leave. Our true home is elsewhere. That forces us to think about the true purpose of this life. Why are we here? What gives purpose and meaning to our lives?
When God designed human nature, he endowed us with reason and free will. Many generations have preceded us. Now we have our moment in the sun. Now we are the actors on the stage of life. Like all our predecessors, we have the task of discovering the formula for a satisfying and successful life, which contributes to a just society and to an enduring peace. This requires reason and learning. It also requires freely choosing to do what is true, right and just.
We all need role models. These are the people who have succeeded in accomplishing these tasks. They developed their talents. They made a real contribution to their peers. They left the world a little better than they found it. We view them as admirable because others, especially young people, want to be like them, to take on their admirable qualities.
Jesus says that we are “active yeast,” and “strong salt.” We are called to influence our times, and our culture, for the better. For yeast to do its job, it must first be kneaded into the lump of dough. We have not fled from the world. St. Benedict, when he built Monte Cassino, created his own sub-culture, which was somewhat protected from the chaos produced by the unraveling of the Roman Empire. But the monastery was not a remote island. People knew about it and were drawn to it. People looked to the monks for guidance, because they were men of God and had a sense of how society was meant to be planned.
Today we live in a more complex world that of 5th and 6th centuries. As persons, we are not more complex, but there are more of us – 7 billion – and our history is longer and more developed. Jesus calls every disciple to become active yeast. I think that He calls monks, who enjoy the advantages of community life, to be even more active yeast. People are looking for true men of God. They want to draw closer to God. They want to know what God is asking of us for these times. They want to know how to undergo true conversion by turning away from sinful ways, and by turning towards a greater imitation of Christ.
Some elements in the secular world will scorn men of God and their monasteries; because, as monks, our lives border on a contradiction to the rest of the world contradictory. We seek to be "in the world but not of the world." We don’t “go along” just to “get along.” Rather, we reinforce the power of our yeast by drawing upon the strength of God. If yeast loses its power, the lump of dough does not rise. We do what the prophets Elijah, Elisha and John the Baptist had always done. We reflect something of the light that is Jesus. We proclaim the truth. We point out the way that leads to a good life here, and eternal life elsewhere with God.
Some people think that a decadent society cannot be changed. Once a society deteriorates to a certain depth, it cannot recover. For human history, that is probably true. But, when God intervenes, nothing is impossible. Jesus can calm any storm. He can feed crowds with just a few barley loaves and dried fish. He can raise people from the dead. He can touch hearts and bring about massive conversions. But He insists upon using human instruments, like Peter and Paul, like the saints of every generation, and hopefully through the likes of you and me.
It is said that we are both the parents and children of our culture. We are both shaped by the culture we live in, and we help give shape to that culture. Any given culture is constantly in flux. It doesn’t stay frozen in time. The newspapers and popular magazines give ample proof of this. We can influence our culture just as much, and effectively, as the cultural élites who are shapers of public opinion. This is why we are called to be active yeast, strong salt, and a beacon of light set on a hill. We get close to God. We let Him radiate his goodness through us, and allow Him to draw others closer to Him through us.
This is what the monks have always done. This is what religious life, in all its various expressions, was established to do. This is what our world and our times demand. May the Lord of all history teach us what good yeast looks like, and does, and how to prevent it from losing its strength.