- The Abbey of the Genesee - https://www.geneseeabbey.org -

May 10, 2020

Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO

5th Sunday of Easter
Acts 6:1-7; 1Pt 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12

Our second reading this morning was from the First Letter of St. Peter and had stones for its theme. It said Jesus was the stone rejected by the builders which has now become the cornerstone. And it encouraged us, “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house”. In a previous homily I had considered the stones of our church and how they had rolled down here from Canada in a glacier and then were collected in the early 1970s by people like Br. Brian and Fr. John Eudes for the building of our church. I would like to continue that meditation on our stones today and include all the stones that got rejected and are piled out by the two metal sheds.

First off, I’ve always been a bit puzzled by the concept of “cornerstone” and why it was so important. It is supposedly the most important stone in the building, but why? I’ve sometimes got the impression that it was so important that if you removed it from the finished building the whole thing would collapse, like maybe a keystone in an arch. But in modern architecture and in our church here it’s hard to imagine that. I looked it up on Wikipedia and apparently it was given more significance in the ancient Middle East than it is nowadays. It was the first stone laid, and once it was laid it determined where the building was going to be. All the other stones were put into place in relation to it. Nowadays we have a ribbon-cutting ceremony and some important person digs the first shovel-full of the ground-breaking. In times past the ceremony would be centered around the laying of the cornerstone, and it would often have a place hollowed out in it to put things of the time period like coins or a newspaper.

When I worked on the farm the first few years with Br. Alberic and Br. James we were always gathering stones from the fields and either dumping them on the edges of the fields or bringing them in to the pile by the two sheds. We had stone racks built onto the tractors that we could get off and throw them into as we were working the fields. Sometimes the stones were too big or buried under the surface and the disc would bounce and make a distinctive sound as it went over it. We would stop and place a small flag there to mark the spot and then come back later with the backhoe and dig it up. Sometimes it was all we could do to push it to the edge of the field with the backhoe or loader. I remember uncovering one south of the bakery that was the size of a small car. I don’t think we had the bulldozer then. The best I could do was dig a deeper hole next to it and maneuver it over into it so that it was down low enough not to be hit by the farm implements. One of the stones in the wall by the sacristy bulletin board has scratches and grooves crisscrossing it. It was evidently one of those ones from the fields. I guess you could see those stones as a stumbling stone or a “skandalon”. They were definitely in the way and a nuisance. But now they’re part of a beautiful structure.

From what I hear, stones were gathered and thoroughly cleaned and then spread out in a large area for the stonemasons to choose from. I can visualize it from the recent renovation of our store and welcome-center when Br. David and Pat Giaguardi made the pillars. In a video clip that’s on the internet Br. Anthony explains that at a certain point toward the end of the building of the church the masons complained that they didn’t have enough stones. He was a bit baffled because there were still stones laying all over the place. But the guy explained that when you start putting the stones together you create a space for the next stone. It can’t be just any stone but has to have a certain shape. They would bend a wire into the approximate shape and then go around and hunt for the perfect fit. That reminds me that in the Church we all have our own unique function to fulfil. We were born with certain gifts and attributes that were meant for a special place in the Church that only we could fill. Maybe it’s not a very conspicuous place in the structure, but nevertheless it is important and valuable.

So that explains why there would be so many stones left over after the construction was finished. We saw how many stones had to be hauled away at the end of the renovation. A lot of them are still on pallets by the chicken coop. Those are all stones that were rejected by the builders. It’s kind of a sad contrast to compare those stones in the big pile with the stones that go to make up our beautiful church. Some of those stones were rejected in the original construction but then later chosen for the pillars of the new store area. Some of them were chosen for landscaping stones. But most of them ended up on a rubble heap.

Those stones ended up on the rubble heap through no fault of their own, really. But when this image is applied to human beings it will be different. Those who end up on a pile of rejected stones will have chosen that for themselves. They are the ones who rejected the invitation to be fashioned into a glorious building arranged around Christ Jesus the cornerstone. Perhaps they prefered remaining dirty and didn’t want to go through the cleaning process. Perhaps they didn’t want to sacrifice their independence. Once you’re in a building, you’re stuck there forever. But rolling stones collect no moss.

Maybe they didn’t want to go through the painful process of having their rough edges chipped off. If you look closely at some of the stones in the church and elsewhere, they had to be slightly adapted to fit into their space. And during the renovation we can remember Pat with his Stihl TS420 concrete saw trimming some of the stones for the pillars. That same process in us human beings is painful and unpleasant. But we have to allow ourselves to be fashioned and molded by God, the Master Builder. We’re all familiar with the image of the creation of a beautiful marble statue. That finished product involved a lot of blows from a hammer and chisel. The hunk of stone was probably saying, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?! That hurts!” But we just have to trust that God has an image in his mind of the finished work. Our part is to not resist the blows and the trimming.

When we picture the heap of stones out by the two sheds and then the impressive walls of our church, sometimes we may feel more like one of those rejected stones. We question our self-worth. We compare ourselves with more glamorous stones. We feel like we didn’t measure up to God’s plan for us. Our critical self-assessment condemns us to the rubbage pile. But that’s not coming from God. In his eyes we are beautiful and have infinite worth. It is our enemy, the devil, who is trying to plant those seeds of self-doubt in our minds and trouble our hearts. If we have a funny shape and some odd characteristics, that’s okay. God has just the place for us. That space was created by other stones with peculiar shapes and no one but us can fill that spot. The overall beauty of the finished building is enhanced by the uniqueness and particularities of each individual stone. If they were all the same, like bricks, it would not be as interesting.

In conclusion then, let us pray that as many stones as possible will be incorporated into the heavenly edifice and that the rubble heap at the end of time will be very minimal.