Saturday, August 20, 2011

“Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house"

Blessed John 23rd was pope during the turbulent 1960s when it seemed 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 was in crisis. The pope worked long and hard hours trying to address these problems. One evening, after an exhausting day in the office, he went to his private chapel to do his daily Holy Hour before retiring but he was too exhausted and too stressed out to focus or 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 2000 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 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 owned the church then; nor do bishops and pastors today. The Church belongs to Christ. 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 Christ.

The passage also 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. We co-operate with Him to help Him with the building. Our role is to listen and follow His instructions, doing our own small part in the grand design of the Master. When we force our own ideas rather than following the directives given by the Master, we may find ourselves working at cross purposes.

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; we are what Jesus uses to build His Church – we are what it is made of. 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, “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 up,” he says "let yourselves be built" – the passive voice. 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 do 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 John 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 with us and through us.

“And so 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!

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful reflection...I'm grateful I found it, Thank You!