May 18, 2014 by Fr. Roger Landry
Fr. Roger J. Landry
Building on Christ
Today in the readings of Sacred Scripture, we hear about a building plan. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that he is going to prepare a place for us at his Father’s house. In the epistle, St. Peter tells us that we’re called to be built into a spiritual house of living stones on Christ the living cornerstone. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the building up of the structure of the early Church with the calling of the first deacons for the service of charity so that the apostles could dedicate themselves with urgency to the word of God and prayer.
Both as individuals and as the community of the Church, we are called to construct our existence on Christ and allow him to build us up into his Mystical Body. We’re supposed to make Jesus our true foundation and give him permission to make us living stones, solid members, in a holy temple offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to the Father through him. That is God’s architectural plan for our life, for our parish, for the Church and for the whole human race.
Because Jesus made us free, however, we have a choice in whether we make him the foundation of our existence. St. Peter in the second reading tells us that Jesus is a stone that “the builders rejected” because they wanted another foundation. He will either become a “cornerstone” or a “stone that will make people stumble and a rock that will make them fall.” In his conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about two ways we could build our life, on rock or on sand. He says the person who builds on rock is the one who hears his words and acts on them and when the storms come and blow and buffet against the house it remains standing, because it was build on rock. That’s the type of foundation he wants us to have. That’s how we become a living stone. The one who constructs his life on sand, however, hears Jesus’ words but doesn’t act on them, and when the rains and storms come, the house is swept away. And so today, as we hear Jesus’ words about how we’re to ground our life, it’s important for us to act on them. Otherwise, we’ll be just as foolish as someone who builds a house out of cheap unreinforced concrete on an earthquake fault line.
Jesus the Personified Fulfillment of Jewish and Gentile Aspirations
In the Gospel today, Jesus describes for us how to build ourselves on him. In one of his most memorable phrases, he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In other words, no one can come to the Father’s house, no one can become a living stone in the Father’s dwelling place except by means of building their life on Jesus the cornerstone.
We’ve heard Jesus’ self-description as the Way, the Truth and the Life so many times that their revolutionary shock value is almost entirely lost on us, but to first century Jewish listeners, they would have heard Jesus saying that he was the full realization of their three deepest religious aspirations. Jews had been praying for centuries, “Teach me your way, O Lord” and Jesus was saying, “I am the way.” They had been imploring God, “Teach me your decrees” that “I may walk in your truth,” and Jesus was saying, “I am the Truth.” They had been begging, “Show me the path of life,” and Jesus was indicating, “I am the Life.” Jesus was saying that he was the personification of all their religious aspirations and the answer to so many of their most insistent prayers.
But these aspirations were not exclusively Jewish. They point to the perennial needs that spring up in every human life. Many times we’re lost, we don’t know where to go, we’re wandering through a valley of darkness with no clear sense of direction. To all of us in those circumstances, Jesus says, “I am the Way.” There are many others who are stumped before life’s biggest questions, who are searching for answers and meaning, who don’t know what to believe, who don’t trust because they don’t know whom to trust. Jesus tells us, “I am the Truth.” “You have faith in God, have faith also in me.” And there are countless others who are struggling to have hope, who feel like they have having the marrow of existence sucked out of them, who are seeking happiness and human fulfillment sometimes in right places, sometimes in wrong. To them, Jesus responds, “I am the Life”.
What does it mean to build our lives on Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life? Let’s take each of Jesus’ affirmations individually and see.
Jesus says, “I am the Way.”
Probably every single one of us has had the experience of being lost when we’re driving. Even in this age of GPS devices and cell-phone map programs, when we lose the satellite connections or cell phone reception, we can be lost even more than we were in the day before these helpful gadgets. I remember several years I was heading down to southern Rhode Island to give a speech. The organizers had given me directions. I had printed a map from the Internet. But even with both, I kept driving around and around, and couldn’t find the address. Finally, I saw a policeman stopped at an intersection. I pulled up aside him, rolled down my window and he rolled down his. I asked him if he knew how to get to the particular address. “Sure, Father, I do,” he replied. I asked him if he would be kind enough to give me directions. “I could give you directions,” he said, “but I think the easiest way is that you just follow me.” And then he led me to where I needed to go.
That’s what Jesus wants to do with all of us. In the Commandments, in his Word, we have the directions we need to get to where Jesus wants us to end up, to the place he’s prepared for us in this life and forever. But Jesus wants to personalize those directions, saying to us far more than “follow the map” but rather “Come, follow me.” He’s the Good Shepherd who comes out to search for us whenever we’re lost sheep. Many times he meets us when we’re like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, as we see in the banner in the sanctuary, wandering away from Jerusalem and everything it stands for. Jesus comes to us on that road to help us to rediscover our path. He sends us as our spiritual GPS the Holy Spirit. He gives us a sure and true set of coordinates in Sacred Scripture and in the Catechism and teachings of the Church he founded. In a life full of going through unchartered territory, occasional roadblocks and detours, they help us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on him so that he can lead us to the eternal destination of the Father’s house.
But the most important thing for us is not merely to know that Jesus is the Way but to follow Him on the way he indicates. His way is not easy. It’s certainly not popular. Are we basing our path in life on remaining with him step-by-step on the road or do we try to do our own thing and set our own path? Jesus is the cornerstone, but he’s a cornerstone who’s dynamic, who’s moving, and if we’re going to be building our life on him we need to be moving together with him. This means first we need to be ready to get up and go, to change, to leave where we are now and like Abraham go to a place God will show us. Like the ancient Jews at the Passover, we need to have our loins girt and sandals on our feet ready to move with Jesus. This clearly means that we need to follow on the path of morality he indicates to us.
Jesus’ path is the way of the Cross, not the way of the crowds, a path of self-giving love instead of self-gratifying egotism. Jesus’ route is a way of continual conversion. Jesus’ path is the path of the beatitudes, not the path of the world. Whereas the world says we have to be rich to be happy, Jesus says we need to be poor in spirit and place our treasure in God. Whereas worldly logic says that human happiness is built on the foundation of putting other people in their place and finishing fights others unwisely started, Jesus says it involves becoming meek and a peacemaker. Whereas worldly gurus say that happiness consists in having all our sexual fantasies fulfilled, Jesus says that the truly blessed are the pure in heart who see God in others and never use them for one’s pleasure. Whereas the world says that the path to a happy life involves being voted Miss Congeniality and Most Popular in our high school graduating class, Jesus says that the living stones are those who are persecuted on account of his name. Which path are we on?
Jesus says that if we’re basing our life on him and following him along the path to the Father’s house, we will be following Jesus across the road as he seeks to make us Good Samaritans caring for those in need, loving them, sacrificing for them, helping to save them — all things that we do through the Catholic Charities Appeal, which is ongoing.
And so today we need to ask ourselves: Are we, individually and as a parish, following Jesus the Way along the Way of the Cross, the path of the Beatitudes, the path of the Beatitudes, the road of Christian love, or are we going the way of the multitudes? Jesus’ path is not easy. It’s an uphill climb. But he has entered the world precisely to strengthen and to guide us. To be a Christian means to build our path on his path, to journey together with him in the world. Today he wants to help us do just that.
Jesus next says, “I am the Truth”
The day after Jesus pronounced these words to the apostles in the upper room, Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” If we’re going to understand Jesus’ expression and how we’re supposed to respond, we need first to answer Pilate’s question. Truth is, basically, the correspondence between something — a phrase, a thought, an idea — and reality. Truth is what is real. For example, if I say, “It’s a sunny day,” you can go outside to see if that statement accords with reality. If it does, the statement is true. If it doesn’t, I’m either mistaken or lying. When Jesus says that he is the truth, what he is ultimately declaring is that he is the ground of all reality, that he is what is most real, that he is the source of all truth, that after everything we know passes away, everything we see and deal with on a daily basis, even our own body, that God still is.
Too often, like many in the world, we can treat other things as more real than Jesus and the truths of faith. The real, real world, we convince ourselves, are the clothes we’re wearing, the money in our pockets, the people we’re meeting, or the silly reality shows we’re watching. The real, real world is what’s being determined by Congress or the courts, or the strength of military might, or the consequences of scientific discoveries. We can treat God’s word as if it’s a group of fables or morality plays. We can consider prayer as just a time of rest. We can treat the Sacrament of Confession as an optional psychological exercise. We can view the Eucharist, whom our second graders will receive at the 10:30 Mass today, as a metaphor or as a piece of bread. We can regard the gifts of the Holy Spirit, whom our Confirmation candidates will receive on Tuesday night at the Cathedral, as just make-believe moral powers. We can think of the whole life of grace as spiritual monopoly money.
It’s actually the other way around. Jesus is most real of all. He says that he is the Truth, not just that he teaches us truths. To be most real, to ground ourselves most deeply in reality, he calls us to base everything we are and do on him.
But the question we need to answer today is whether we’ve been responding to his help to build our life on the foundation of the Truth he is and indicates to us. Do we seek to see everything through his light, the light of faith, or do we see even the things of faith through the suspicious eyes of a secularized world? Are we grounding ourselves on the Truth he has taught us or on some other foundation? Are we humble enough to know that we don’t have all the answers and to go to him, and the Church he founded, for the answers to the most important questions?
At a practical level, if we’re really building ourselves on Jesus the Truth, then we should have a real hunger to get to know what he teaches us. We should be praying, so that we can receive his help to see the things we need to deal with day-by-day from his perspective. We should be studying with ardor his holy word so that we can build our lives on it. We should be taking advantage of opportunities, like the new adult education course that will begin on June 4, to get to know our faith much more deeply so that we can have become a living stone of truth in the midst of a world that often blows and buffets against our spiritual house and so that we can pass that on to our kids, to our grandkids, to our godchildren, to our friends and to others, so that they won’t be building their house on quicksand. We should be striving to know the truth in such a way that it will set us free to love God and to love others and keep us from being enslaved to the lies and slogans to which so many in our day succumb.
Third, Jesus said, “I am the Life”
Jesus is more than just alive. He does more than give physical life to the world he created, to the plants, to the animals and to us, by making fruitful the love of our parents and infusing a soul. He does more than give us spiritual life through the sacraments he instituted for our salvation. He is life incarnate. To the extent we’re alive at all, we’re alive in him. We owe our physical life to him and if he didn’t hold us in existence right now, we would disappear. We owe our spiritual life to him. And, God-willing, we will owe our eternal life to him, if we share in his life in this world, so as to share in it eternally in the next. Jesus came, as he said to us in last week’s Gospel, so that “they may have life and have it to the full,” but he doesn’t force his life on us. He wants us to choose to live off of him, to draw our very existence from him. .
We do this most especially in the sacraments, in prayer and in the moral life of love. That life with Jesus begins in baptism, is restored in confession, and is nourished in Holy Communion. But the life of Jesus is more than simply batteries for the soul that keep us going. It’s supposed to be the principle of our existence so that, eventually, we are able to say with St. Paul, “It is no longer even I who live, but Christ who lives in me” and “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave his life for me.” Whereas the world believes that the most important things in life, that the essential foundations, are money, property, education, influence and health, we recognize that it’s our relationship with Jesus. The most important thing in life, we realize, is this personal discovery of Jesus, forming this personal, life-changing friendship with Jesus.
If we’re building our foundation on Jesus who is the life, we will be responding to his help to unite our entire life to him. We see this revealed for us in the second half of today’s Gospel. Jesus tells the Apostle Philip that whoever has seen Him has seen the Father, that the words he speaks are the words he has heard from the Father, and that the works he does are not his own but rather “the Father who dwells in me is doing his works.” Jesus was saying that in Him, the apostles should see the Father’s face, hear the Father’s voice, and behold the Father’s deeds. That’s the type of transformation that is supposed to happen in us if we’re grounding our life on the One who said, “I am the life.” Jesus said during his Bread of Life Discourse in the Capernaum Synagogue, “Just as the Father who has life sent me and I have life because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” Jesus wants us to base our lives so firmly on him with whom we enter into communion that others in seeing us will see a reflection of him, that others listening to us will hear an echo of his voice and even his very words, that others in observing us will see us carrying out his work of charity and mercy. Our union is supposed to be so profound that Jesus wants us even to pray totally united to him, promising us at the end of the passage from which today’s Gospel is excised that whatever we ask the Father in his name, he will do. This is what it means to base our life on Jesus..
Jesus in the Eucharist Builds Us on Himself as the Way, Truth and Life
It’s at Mass that that building project most especially takes place. From the earliest days of Christianity, the saints have stated that the Eucharist builds the Church. It makes us Christians and makes us living stones together built into a spiritual edifice on Christ the cornerstone. It’s here that Jesus makes us a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God the Father through Jesus Christ. It’s here he constructs us into a chosen race, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that we may announce the praises of him who has called us out of darkness into his wonderful life. It’s from here that Jesus sends us out to help everyone else discover that Jesus is the direction they most need in life, the answer to their profoundest questions, the source of life that will give them happiness and meaning.
We rejoice that we have followed Jesus here today, to hear his Truth and to receive His Life, and we ask him to give us the grace he knows we need to keep this communion and build our entire life on him so that no matter what storms come that blow and buffet against us and the other members of the Church, we may remain always firm in the faith that will bring us to eternal happiness in that house of the Father that Jesus out of love has gone to prepare for us.