Sunday April 28, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week in Easter
Reading I (Acts 6:1-7) Reading II (1 Peter 2:4-9)
Gospel (St. John 14:1-12)
Saint Peter, in the second reading that we heard today, says to us, "Come to Him, a living stone, rejected by men but precious in the eyes of God" and "God has made Him the cornerstone." But the important thing is that beginning phrase: "Come to Him." That is absolutely critical. He tells us Himself in the Gospel reading that no one can come to the Father except through Him, and then He tells us that He and the Father are one. And so, it is our only way; indeed, He is our only hope.
We all know that very well, except that our fear keeps us away. The devil, in his shrewdness, is right there to tell us that we really do not want to give ourselves wholeheartedly to Jesus - itís enough just to give ourselves "sort of" to Him: "Just believe in Him, Ďkind ofí; thatís good enough." No, it isnít. Listen to what Saint Peter tells you about yourself: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a chosen people. That is you. Now the question is Ė do you want to be that? You are that whether you want to be or not, but it is a question of whether we are going to reject it or accept it. Saint Peter tells us that because we are in Christ, we therefore are also living stones to be built into a spiritual temple and into a holy priesthood. Each and every one of us is called to this holiness. We are called to union with Jesus Christ. We are called to love and serve our heavenly Father, and there is only one way that can be done, that is, in and through Jesus Christ.
Now, most of us are going to deal with the exact same problems when it comes to Our Lord. We know that He is the way, the truth, and the life. We know that He loves us. We know that He wants only the best for us, but we are afraid. We are afraid to give everything to the Lord because we are attached to too many things. We are afraid to give ourselves to the Lord because we like to be in control of our own lives. And even though we would not suggest this, if we are honest with ourselves, the truth of the matter is that we like to be in control of our own lives. We are afraid that if we turn control over to the Lord that He might actually ask us to do something we did not want to do, or He might ask us to do something that would hurt and we like things to be easy and comfortable.
We like to be able to say that we believe in Jesus, but we live a worldly life; that is the American way. If I may be so bold, I would suggest to you that if that is the way we are trying to live, we do not believe in Jesus Christ. Let me make that perfectly clear: If we want to say that we believe in Jesus and live a worldly life, we do not have faith in Jesus Christ. We can have a generic belief in Jesus, but we do not believe in the Jesus Christ who tells us that we have to follow Him, we do not believe in the Jesus Christ who speaks to us of our dignity, we do not believe in the Jesus Christ to whom Saint Peter tells us to come, because we refuse to come to Him and because we are afraid.
We need, then, to ask ourselves why we are afraid. When we look at what it is that He has done for us already: He has, first of all, become a man; secondly, He has died for our sins to prove His love for us; thirdly, He promises to us that where He is we also will be, and that He has gone before us to prepare a place for us and He will come back and take us to be with Him for eternity. So why are we afraid? We are afraid, perfectly honestly, that we might have to suffer a little bit. We are afraid that we would have to do things His way rather than Him doing it our way. We are afraid that He is God instead of us and that we cannot tell Him how to be God, but instead He is going to tell us how to be His followers. When it really comes down to it, we are afraid that we are not the shepherd, but that He is, and we would have to be sheep. We donít like that.
But when we look at the first reading, we hear the apostles telling us that it is not right for them "to neglect prayer and the Word of God in order to wait on tables". In other words, they had the duties of their state in life, and it was not right for them to neglect what their task was in order to do something else. The same is true for each one of us. It is wrong for us to want to be something other than what we are, which means none of us is the shepherd. We are the sheep. We need to quit trying to bump Jesus out of the way, telling Him that we will take over and if we need Him then we will call on Him, but in the meantime, we will take care of the shepherding task and we will lead ourselves in the way that we think is the best. We have proven to ourselves, thousand of times over - if you are anything like me, anyway - that trying to be the shepherd of your own soul does not work very well.
We have a shepherd, and as sheep it is our job to follow Him. That is part of the duty of our state in life. That is what is incumbent upon us because of our baptismal vows. We need to quit trying to take control of our own lives, and we need to give it to Him. But we are afraid. We are afraid that if we give Him control, He will actually take it, and that He might try to lead us in a path where we did not want to go. Well, I can stand here and give you an absolute guarantee that if you do give Him control, He will take it. Let there be no mistake about that. He wants to be in control, but He is God. When He is in control, it is very different from when we are in control, because He wants only what is the best. He will lead us in the way that is the most perfect, but we do not believe that. We like to think that the way we have charted out is the way that is the best and the most perfect, but we know it is not.
Saint Peter tells us that for those who do not believe, Jesus is a stumbling stone. The Greek word that is used there means He is a scandal. You can ask yourself, then, if you believe that Jesus is going to lead you in a way that is not the best, if you are afraid to give control over to Him, do you not then believe that He will be a stumbling stone for you? That He is going to lead you somehow in a way that is going to trip you up, that is not going to be the best? If that is the case, then we would have to say that Jesus Christ has become for each one of us a scandal, a stumbling stone.
But He ought not to be that. Instead, if we recognize Him as He truly is, then we realize that He is the cornerstone rejected by men but precious in the sight of God, and that we too are living stones. But we are living stones only in Him, built up into the spiritual edifice, into a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God the Father. That is who we are. But we can only do that if we are built upon the cornerstone. We ourselves are not the cornerstone. Saint Paul tells us that no one can lay a foundation other than the foundation that has been laid, and Jesus is the cornerstone of that foundation. So if we want to build our own edifice, if we want to make ourselves look impressive and put up our own little façade, then we are building someplace other than on Jesus Christ. We are making ourselves the cornerstone, and if that is the case, then we can say that we have become the stone accepted by men and precious in their sight, but rejected by God. We need to be acceptable stones in Godís eyes, living stones, not dead pieces of rock that are sitting there, but stones that are filled with life because we are united with Jesus Christ who is the shepherd of our souls.
There is only one temple, there is only one priesthood, and there is only one chosen people. The question we need to ask is - do we want to be part of that? Saint Peter lays it out for us very clearly: You are a chosen race, a holy priesthood. You are the people of God, but the choice is yours. You can do it your way, or you can do it Godís way. Jesus tells us that He is going to come back and He is going to take us to be with Him so that where He is we also will be. We will be able to enter into the eternal temple. We will be able to serve Him as priests forever, as children of our heavenly Father, if we allow ourselves to be built upon Him. But if we decide that we want to do it our own way, that we want to be the cornerstone, that we want to be the shepherd, that we want to tell God how it is to be done, then we reject His offer and we will be away from Him for eternity. We can be in control - and we can direct ourselves straight into perdition. Or we can give up the control. We can accept the true Shepherd of our souls. We can allow ourselves to be built upon the foundation that Jesus Himself has laid, and we will be built up into that holy priesthood, that chosen race, the people set apart, the people of God Himself whom He has called to serve Him and to worship Him and to be glorified with Him for all eternity.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.