Let’s Build a Cathedral!
Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 4, 2020
Many years ago, during my seminary days, I visited one of the most magnificent churches I’ve ever seen: Chartres, which is about an hour train ride outside of Paris. Our guide told a story that I have never forgotten.
As the church was being built in the late 1100’s and early 1200’s, a visitor came to the site. He asked one of the workers what he was doing. He replied that he was involved in the grueling and exacting work of cutting stones so that they would fit exactly in the place where they were needed, high overhead.
The visitor went to another worker and asked what he was doing. The second worker said that he was putting together the chemical mixtures that would make the different colors of stained glass, and then cutting them, fitting them together, and using lead to keep them in place—to create some of the most beautiful stained glass windows in the world.
Finally, he came upon a woman who was sweeping one of the work areas with a rather primitive broom. And so, he asked her what she was doing. She replied, “Why, I’m building a cathedral!”
In our gospel reading Jesus uses the ancient imagery, found in our first reading (Isaiah), of a vineyard to describe the people of Israel. And the point of the story is that it is God who is doing the work of creating a people, a community. God is the creator who furnishes all the raw materials and blesses every aspect of the endeavor. And now, it is Jesus who is the creator of the new community of disciples, the Church. St. Paul spells this out in his letter to the Romans. With Jesus as our Head, we are the Body of Christ—each of us having a different role to play, much as the head, the hand and the foot provide different services for the body. It is Jesus who calls us together, distributes a variety of talents, gifts and ministries, and gives us the task of proclaiming the good news that we are loved and forgiven, and working for a world that is more merciful and just.
All of this is captured in the beautiful nineteenth-century hymn, The Church’s One Foundation:
The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her lord; She is his new creation by water and the word; From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride; With his own blood he bought her, And for her sake he died.
For the last several weeks, I have been speaking about the division in our nation, in our world, and in our Church. I think we’ve forgotten who we are. We’re building one community in which everyone belongs, everyone’s dignity is protected, and the weak and most vulnerable are taken care of. As Christians, we’re building a Cathedral! As Americans, we’re building a beautiful, hopeful, compassionate and caring nation that should serve as a shining example to the oppressed of the world of what’s possible when we work together. And as human beings, we’re building up the human race, since Jesus taught us that we have one God, to whom we pray as Our Father, and that we, therefore, are one human family, one human race. That’s the crop that God is looking for! But I’m afraid that, lately, we’ve been producing a lot of wild grapes, hardly worthy of God’s creation, God’s vineyard, God’s kingdom, God’s Church.
We’re not just putting together the stones of a building. We’re not just creating pretty stained glass windows. Together, we are working—even if our task is as simple as sweeping the floor—together, we are building a Cathedral!