“Come to Jesus, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.” (1 Pet. 2:4)
In 1992, I spent six weeks in the Holy Land and visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. I was amazed by the size of the stones at the base of the temple. The largest stone in the foundation is 12’ high, 14’ wide and 45’ long. When the Romans breached the wall in 70 A.D., they tried to break that stone, but were unable to move it. That huge stone is what Peter had in mind when he said, “Come to Jesus, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.”
His love for us is rock solid. If we are built on Jesus, the Living Stone, then no tragedy, no pandemic can shake us. He is the cornerstone of the Father’s house. If you are anxious or fearful, then remember that Christ is beneath your feet.
Think of a little child sitting between his or her mom and dad. The child is totally secure with them. Having parents who love you is like having two stones at your side. Their strong love makes us feel safe and precious. They will always be there, no matter what. With Christ beneath our feet, we are ten thousand times more secure.
As the living stone, Jesus said, “You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places.” (Jn. 14:1-2) He promised us that we have a room in the Father’s house, not only after we die, but right now. Having a room in the Father’s house is another way for Jesus to describe God’s faithful unconditional love.
We can never earn a room in the Father’s house. Rather, it is always a gift. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the older son thought that he could earn his room by working hard every day. Jesus shocked the Pharisees who had this mindset, by describing the merciful Father who runs with open arms to welcome his lost son. His house is a house of mercy and forgiveness.
Pope Francis said, “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open . . . Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community . . . Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 47)
The Church is called to be the house of the Father. Saint Peter said it this way, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” (1 Pet. 2:5) By the grace of Baptism, we became living stones, built upon Christ the Living Stone of God. We are ‘living’ stones because we received the Life of the Risen Lord. The Holy Spirit dwells in us. We are empowered with his faithful love. God is our strength.
Yet, we are not merely ‘independent’ stones. As Catholics, we emphasize the communion of saints. No single person can be built into a spiritual house. We can only do that all together. Saint Peter addressed all the people when he wrote, “Like living stones, let yourselves built into a spiritual house.”
Sometimes personal independence manifests itself in an unhealthy way in our Church. This week the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre spoke about the infighting in the American Catholic Church. He said, “A Church divided against itself will crumble.” A Church with bickering and infighting attracts no one. People are attracted by joy, and by unity in charity.
We can only be a vibrant Church if we are united through humble patient love. To be living stones means to be united to Christ the cornerstone and united to the other stones in our spiritual house. It means to realize that I am one small stone of the house of the Father. The early Christians were often described as being united in mind and heart (Acts 4:32).
Unity makes our house stronger. I am thinking especially of the wisdom and strength of the elderly. They have endured hardships in faith. Just by their presence, they strengthen our spiritual house.
I recently heard the story of a man raised on a farm in western Nebraska. In the 1940’s he had worked hard to plant wheat that had flourished and was close to harvest. But a hailstorm destroyed the crop. He was lamenting the huge loss together with his mother who came to the field with him to view the aftermath. After some time in silence she said, “Gather some of these hailstones, and we’ll make ice cream for the neighbors.” The son always remembered her resilience and capacity to look beyond the storm.
These days sometimes people express almost an indifferent resignation that COVID-19 will take the elderly, and we just need to accept it. Behind that resignation seems to be a lack of appreciation for their wisdom and strength. What would our spiritual house be like without their wisdom and perseverance? Someone said, if COVID-19 were killing the youth at the rate that it kills the elderly, then the elderly would be fighting tooth and nail for them.
Our strength as a Church depends on the weakest members. They enrich us with spiritual depth and inspire us in trials. That is why solidarity is essential. A church built of living stones is selfless like Christ. It offers spiritual sacrifices to God and for the good of others.
In the pandemic, we are stressed and tired. We are being asked to adapt and do things that are uncomfortable, like wearing masks for the good of all when we are in close proximity to others. I am more aware of people with immunity issues, even young people. Often they are reluctant to talk about their medical issues, so you may not realize what they are feeling. However, COVID-19 has caused them to be anxious and constantly on the alert, so they greatly appreciate our willingness to take extra precautions.
Personally I don’t feel like I need a mask, but medical doctors are saying it will protect the most vulnerable. That protection may happen in an extended way. For example, the priests minister to the elderly and sick, so if everyone at Mass uses extra precautions, then the priest will be less likely to transmit the virus to others outside of Mass. Or a young priest may have a spiritual director who is an older priest. Or a retired priest might substitute for weekend Masses, so we need to anticipate their needs. Likewise, Catholic healthcare workers need to be careful to stay COVID-free. So taking precautions while they are at Mass is a way to help them serve the sick.
I struggle with the extra precautions too, but I need to set aside my personal preferences. I have been getting better about wearing a mask when I go to the store. It is a simple and selfless act of love for the common good of all. When public Masses begin, I will wear a Mass during the entrance procession, while distributing Communion and as I leave Mass. We are asking all the priests to do the same. However, while the priest is in the sanctuary, because there is sufficient distance from the people, he will not wear a mask.
Today, recall the gift of Jesus the Living Stone, the rock beneath your feet. He is the cornerstone of the Father’s house where there is a place for everyone. As the Latinos say, my house is your house. Give thanks to the Lord for the Father’s gracious hospitality.
Next think of how our spiritual house is enriched by the weak, the elderly and every single believer. Ask for the grace to be a living stone selflessly united to others in faith. How well are you being a living stone in the Father’s house? What more can you do to strengthen the unity of our spiritual house?
Pray for solidarity with all who belong to the One Body of Christ. “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.”