Pope's Preacher: The House Built on Rock
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"Building your house on rock means quite simply building on God. He is the rock... The house built on rock already exists; we just have to go inside! It is the Church."
ROME (Zenit) - In Jesus' time everyone knew that it was foolish to build your house on sand at the bottom of the valley rather than on the rock high above.
After every heavy rain a torrent of water forms almost immediately that sweeps away everything in its path. Jesus uses this observation to create today's parable about the two houses that, as a parable, has two sides.
"Thus, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock" (Matthew 7:24-25).
With perfect symmetry, changing only a few words, Jesus presents the same scene negatively: "And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined" (Matthew 7:26-27).
Building your house on sand means placing your hopes and certainties in unstable and unpredictable things that cannot stand the whips and scorns of time, the reversals of fortune. Money, success and personal health are such things. Experience shows this to us every day: All it takes to bring everything crashing down is a trifle, a little blood clot, the philosopher Blaise Pascal said.
Building your house on rock means, on the contrary, to stake your life and hopes on that which "thieves cannot steal nor rust corrode," on that which does not pass away. "Heaven and earth will pass away," Jesus said, "but my words shall not pass away."
Building your house on rock means quite simply building on God. He is the rock. The rock is one of the Bible's preferred symbols for God: "Our God is an eternal rock" (Isaiah 26:4); "He is the rock, his works are perfect" (Deuteronomy 32:4).
The house built on rock already exists; we just have to go inside! It is the Church. Obviously it is not the one built of bricks and mortar but that made up of "living stones," who are the believers built upon the cornerstone, who is Christ Jesus. The house built upon the rock is the one about which Jesus spoke to Simon: "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church" (Matthew 16:18).
To build one's life upon rock therefore means to live in the Church, not staying outside, forever pointing your finger at the inconsistency and defects of the human side of the Church. Only a few souls were saved from the great flood, those who boarded Noah's ark; only those who enter the Church will be saved from the deluge of time that swallows up everything (cf. 1 Peter 3:20).
This does not mean that everyone who is outside of her will not be saved; there is another way of belonging to the Church, "known only to God," the Second Vatican Council says, that regards those who without knowing Christ, live according to the dictate of their conscience.
The theme of the word of God, which is at the center of the readings this Sunday, and which the synod of bishops will take up in October, suggests a practical application to me. God used words to communicate life to us and reveal truth. We human beings often use words to kill and hide the truth!
In the introduction to his famous "Dizionario delle opere e dei personaggi," Valentino Bompiani recounts the following episode. In June 1939 an international conference of editors was held in which he participated. War was already in the air and the Nazi government proved itself to be a master at manipulating words for the purpose of propaganda. On the second to last day of the conference, Goebbels, who was the Third Reich's minister of propaganda, invited the participants to the parliament hall. The delegates of the different countries were asked to offer a word of greeting.
An editor from Sweden approached the podium when it was his turn and in a grave voice spoke these words: "Lord God, I must give a speech in German. I lack the vocabulary and the grammar and I am lost when it comes to the gender of the nouns. I don't know if 'friendship' is feminine and 'hate' masculine, or if 'honor,' 'loyalty' and 'peace' are neuter. So, Lord God, take our words and leave us our humanity. Perhaps we will be able to understand each other and save ourselves." There was thunderous applause, while Goebbels, who got the point, left the hall in a rage.
A Chinese emperor who was asked about what the most urgent thing was to improve the world answered without hesitation: Reform words! What he meant was: Give back to words their true meaning. He was right. There are words that, little by little, have been completely emptied of their original meaning and assigned a diametrically opposed meaning. Their use can only be lethal. It is like putting a label that says "after-dinner liqueur" on a bottle of arsenic: Someone will be poisoned.
Countries have very strict laws against those who make counterfeit money, but none against those who use counterfeit words. What has happened to the word "love" has not happened to any other word. A man rapes a woman and he excuses himself by saying that he did it for love. The expression "make love" often signifies the most vulgar act of egoism in which each person only thinks about his or her own gratification, ignoring the other and reducing him or her to a mere object.
As we see, reflection on the word of God can also help us to reform and save human words from meaninglessness.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are Deuteronomy 11:18, 26-28, 32; Romans 3:21-25a, 28; Matthew 7:21-27.
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