Living Stones

Fifth Sunday of Easter. Acts 6:1-7; Ps 33:1-2,4-5,18-19; 1 Pt 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12  

One of the challenges in understanding Sacred Scripture is a kind of over-familiarity. Precisely because the liturgy of the Church cycles regularly through the same readings of Scripture, it is easy to miss the ‘good news’, to hear the familiar sounds without pondering the words in our hearts. So I thought it would be good to devote today’s short homily to just one remarkable phrase in today’s Second Reading, a phrase that is easy to miss, but rich and pregnant with meaning. This phrase appears twice. First, St. Peter refers to Christ as a ‘living stone’, “rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.” Second, St. Peter calls us to be like ‘living stones’, and to let ourselves “be built into a spiritual house.” But what is a ‘living stone’? 

The puzzle in answering this question is that it is hard to think of anything that is less alive than a stone, at least in the natural sense. Stone does not breathe or grow or multiply; on the contrary, it is solid, cold and hard. Indeed, Scripture often explicitly associates stones with death. St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, dies by being stoned, that is, by having stones thrown at him. Similarly, a stone is used to seal the tombs of Lazarus and of Christ himself, and Jesus makes a prophecy about the dead stones of the Jerusalem Temple. When Jesus' disciples point out the wonderful stones and buildings of the Temple, Jesus answers, “There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” Nevertheless, Scripture also claims that God's power of redemption extends even to what seems dead like a stone. John the Baptist, for example, tells us that God is able to raise up children of Abraham from stones, and the prophet Ezekiel explains this by reference in terms of the human heart. While the human heart without God is like a stone, cold, hard and dead, such hearts are not beyond God's power of redemption. Ezekiel prophesies that God, “will sprinkle clean water upon you,” a prophecy of the sacrament of Baptism, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you, and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” God builds such living stones into a new and everlasting Temple, the Church, which is the dwelling place of God with His people.

So what kind of qualities are required to be a ‘living stone’ in God's Temple? Well the first priority is to stay alive. The kind of life of the ‘living stones’ is a supernatural life, a sharing in the life of God. We share in that supernatural life by the sacraments and by prayer, so the first priority of the Christian is to stay close to Christ by regular and prayerful participation in the sacraments. This is why it is so necessary to maintain the discipline of Sunday Mass. Many people also find it helpful to come to Mass from time to time during the week. Unfortunately, it is also within our power to kill the supernatural life of our souls by mortal sin. If living stones become dead again, they will eventually be thrown down and crumble into ruin. So the second priority of the Christian is to avoid sin, especially mortal sin. If we do commit any kind of mortal sin, it is vitally important to go to Confession for God to restore supernatural life and healing to our souls. Dead stones can be brought to life again, but we have to make use of the means that God in his mercy has given us.

Finally, I think we can learn something from the virtues of stones in a building. As living stones in the Temple of the Church, we are not the architects or builders or foundations of our own lives. We are part of something immeasurably greater than ourselves: there were many generations of Christians before us, and there may yet be many generations of Christians after us. We cannot comprehend the interior glory or all the bonds of connections among persons in God's Temple.  It is God who does the building; all that we have to do is to let Him complete His work, to let ourselves “be built into a spiritual house.” For this reason, it is good to make the prayer of Our Lady into our own prayer, “Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.’”

Fr. Andrew Pinsent, St. Ambrose Church, St. Louis, 20th April 2008

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