Sunday, August 24, 2008

Built of living stones

TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 24, 2008:

Blessed Pope John the 23rd was pope during the turbulent 1960s when it seemed in many ways that everything was falling apart. The priesthood was in crisis, religious life was in crisis, marriage was in crisis, faith was in crisis, the church itself was in crisis. The pope worked long and hard hours trying to address these problems. One evening, after an exhausting day, he went to his private chapel to pray his daily Holy Hour before bed but he was too exhausted and too stressed to focus or to pray. After a few minutes of futile effort, he got up and said, “Lord, the church belongs to you. I am going to bed.”

Difficulties might have driven the Pope to acknowledge that the church belongs to Christ. But, as we heard in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus himself said it 2,000 years ago: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

This is the most explicit statement that Jesus makes in the Gospels about the institution of the church and it is crucial for a proper understanding of what the church is, and of our role in the church.

Most importantly, it reminds us that Jesus is the owner of the church. Neither Peter nor the disciples owns the church. And so, when we sometimes act and feel that we own the church, we are like farm workers who go about pretending the farm belongs to them. In reality, all God’s people have been called together as co-workers in Christ’s vineyard, each with a distinct and important role to perform. But we do not own the church. Instead, we belong to the church under the leadership of Jesus Christ.

This passage also tells us that Jesus is the one who builds his church. “Upon you I will build my church,” he says to Peter. He is the master builder who has the building plan in His hands. We cooperate with Him to help Him with the process of building. Our role is to listen and follow His instructions, doing our own small part in the grand design of the master. Workers who stick to their own ideas of what the building should be rather than follow the directives given by the Master may find themselves working at cross purposes with the Master.

So, if Jesus is the owner and builder of the church, where then do we come in? We come in precisely where Peter comes in. Together with Peter we are the building blocks of the church. Peter is the foundation rock and we are the pieces of stones with which the church is built. Peter himself wrote in his first letter. He said, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Notice he doesn’t say “build yourselves into a spiritual house,” he says “let yourselves be built.” We are passive, God is active. It is God Himself who is the builder and not us. Our role is to allow God to use us. The question we could ask ourselves today is: “How is God using me to build up his church? Am I letting God use me to build up his church?” We must not forget that no matter how small a piece of stone may be, the master builder still uses it to create something beautiful.

A famous stained-glass artist was commissioned to make a huge portrait of Christ for the cathedral in Chartres, France. First he laid all of the pieces he was going to use out on the floor of the cathedral. Among these awesome pieces of glass was a small, clear piece about as big as a fingernail. As the stained-glass portrait was assembled, that little piece remained on the floor. Only the big colorful pieces were used. On the day of the window’s completion the entire city gathered to witness the unveiling of the portrait. The artist pulled down the cloth cover and the crowd gasped at the beauty of the colorful window glowing in the sunlight. After a few seconds, however, the crowd grew silent. They sensed that something was missing, that the portrait was unfinished. The great artist then walked over to where the little clear piece of glass lay, picked it up, and placed it in the portrait, right in the center of Jesus’ eye. As the sun hit that little piece, it gave off a dazzling sparkle. The work of art was now complete.

My friends, in the grand design of building the church of God, each one of us could consider ourselves to be that small but indispensable piece of glass. Blessed Pope John the 23rd said this about our role in the church, “We are not on earth to guard a museum but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.” Let us allow God to build up His church through us and with us and for us.

“I say to you…upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

May God give you peace.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you father, this was really good!
    Please pray for me.
    PS: I do love the Church... she has seduced me
    Pace e Bene
    br.Freddie

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you father, this was really good!
    Please pray for me.
    PS: I do love the Church... she has seduced me
    Pace e Bene
    br.Freddie

    ReplyDelete