Salt of the Earth

23 Mar

salt_1364790cThe call came while I was out Friday night, so I didn’t hear the message until the next morning: Old Eddie had died. His apartment manager hadn’t seen him for a few days and found his body in the flat.

Eddie was the salt of the earth, and one of my heroes.

I met Eddie when he showed up at the Catholic Worker many years ago. He was a down and out veteran with an obscure story, but he didn’t reek of alcohol, nor did he seem like the sort to start a fight, so he got to stay.

Eddie was Polish – a dumb Polack, as he used to say – and so a Catholic, though I don’t think he was practicing his faith at the time. Whether he was or not, he certainly experienced a resurgence of piety after the Worker took him in, and he became very devout almost overnight.

The intellectual side of religion was of no interest to Eddie, so he shied away from the theological sparring that characterized much of our table-talk and porch conversation in those days. Instead, he loved to pray with anyone he could corner – the Divine Office, the Rosary – and he encouraged me in my efforts to get to daily Mass. Plus, Eddie started helping out at the soup kitchen, clearing tables and mopping up afterwards. For him, religion was something you did, not something you thought about.

Once he started receiving disability checks, Eddie got his own place – at the YMCA at first, but later on his own apartment. By then, I’d moved on from Chicago, but Eddie kept up with me, sending me Mass cards for Christmas and Easter, always with a personal note to the effect that he was remembering me in his prayers.

Later still I married, and Eddie’s prayers just multiplied along with my growing family. Every year, without fail, Eddie would send us Mass cards – Christmas, Easter – and every year a personal note.

So, Eddie is dead, but it’s hard to be sad, for I have a pretty good hunch that he had been been given a hero’s welcome on the other side. Like I said, Eddie was the salt of the earth, and I suspect Jesus always makes room for the likes of him.

Still, the news of Eddie’s death got me thinking: Salt of the earth – what does that mean? Usually the term refers to simple folk whose natural goodness is not necessarily matched by gifts of intellect or sagacity, but that seems too patronizing, even vaguely insulting, when applied to people as golden as Eddie and those like him. pope francis

Instead, I prefer the image that Pope Francis outlined in his homily the other day: “The Word of God…is alive in the hearts of the simple, of the humble, of the people of God.” In other words, the salt of the earth – the simple, the humble, the people of God – are those in whom the Word of God is energized. Referring to the day’s Gospel, in which the masses protected Jesus from the intellectual Pharisees bent on revenge, the Pope went on:

That simple crowd — that followed Jesus because what He said did their hearts good, warmed their hearts — this people wasn’t wrong. They…listened and sought to be a little bit better.

That’s an apt description of the salt of the earth, an apt description of my friend Eddie. He encountered Jesus, it did his heart good, and he sought to be a little bit better. No spectacular feats, no flashy accomplishments. Just a warmed heart, a bit of sweeping and mopping at the soup kitchen, and a whole lot of prayer. Eddie’s life was quiet and unassuming, but what he added was a richness that was palatable.

In fact, the Pope could’ve been thinking of old Eddie when he specifically referenced salt in another homily about a year ago: “When salt is used well, one does not notice the taste of salt…. What one tastes is the flavor of the food: salt helps improve the flavor of the meal.”

That was Eddie. He humbly and quietly improved life’s flavor for me, my family, and countless others. Rest in peace, old friend. Your subtle seasoning will be missed.

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One Response to “Salt of the Earth”

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  1. Salt of the Earth | One Thousand Words a Week - March 23, 2014

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