Four years ago when Pope Benedict did the stunning act of resigning from the papacy, he showed us a model of humility. And in his final public address, he said, “I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, not ours, but the Lord’s. It is He, who steers her. For this reason, today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.”
Pope Benedict had the humility to take that unprecedented step because he knew something important – that the church belongs to Christ. And this is the heart of our Gospel today. We hear two familiar passages today. The question about Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” And the powerful proclamation to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
We often explore both of these in complex theological terms that tell us something about the nature of Jesus as God and man, and the nature of the church and role of the papacy. But somehow, I don’t think Jesus was engaged in deep theology when He asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” or made the statement, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Instead, I think Jesus was taking the opportunity to get his friends to think about something different. Who are we? What are we about? His words were not theological, they were relational and loving. And so, today is a good day for each of us to think about these same simple questions. To think about who Jesus is to us and in turn, who are we and what are we about as the people who follow Him?
Like Pope Benedict, we know that the Church isn’t ours – it belongs to Jesus. And that’s important to acknowledge because since Jesus is in charge, we can be sure that the Church will go on. It will always be a beacon of hope and compassion, of love and acceptance, of reconciliation and healing. No matter how often we may fail at conveying that message, Jesus is always here to remind us who we are. As Pope Francis said, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”
Today’s passage tells us that Jesus is the one who builds His church. “Upon you I will build my church.” He is the Master Builder who has the building plan in His hands. But, if Jesus is the builder of the church, where do we come in? We come in exactly where Peter comes in. Together with Peter, and countless others, we are what the Church is made of. Each of us – you and me – are what Jesus uses to build His Church. Peter is the foundation rock, but we are the individual stones with which the church is built. Peter himself wrote in his first letter, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” Our job is to allow God to use us. So, the question we could ask ourselves today is: "How is God using me to build up the church?" No matter how what kind of stone we may be, the Master Builder can still use us to do something beautiful.
There is a story of a famous stained-glass artist who was commissioned to make a huge portrait of Christ for a cathedral in France. He first laid all of the glass pieces out on the floor of the cathedral. Among the many large pieces of glass was a small, clear piece no bigger than a fingernail. As the stained-glass portrait was assembled, that little piece remained on the floor. On the day of the window's completion the entire city gathered to witness the unveiling. The artist pulled down the cloth cover and the crowd gasped at the beauty of the colorful window glowing in the sunlight. But, something was missing, 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. We are the stones that show God’s love to those who need it in the world – we share that love with the homeless, the hungry, the addict, the grieving, and the lost. We are the stones of God’s presence today to show His kindness, compassion, forgiveness and healing. In this way, we work with God to continue to build the church day-by-day, stone-by-stone. Without each one of us, the church is not complete.
“Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”
May the Lord give you peace!