In today’s first reading, St. Peter addresses the leaders and elders of the Jewish community after the resurrection, describing Jesus as “the stone rejected by the builders which has become the cornerstone.”
The cornerstone or foundation stone was (and is) the first stone set in the construction of a masonry building’s foundation. For a building whose foundation is constructed by carefully laying the building stones, the cornerstone is critical because all other stones are set in reference to it.
Over time, cornerstones became more decorative and ceremonial than functional. Today they are often rectangular stones set in a prominent location on the outside of the building. They usually carry an inscription indicating the construction date, and sometimes they have a hollow center and contain documents.
When a parish begins the actual construction of a new church, there is a special ritual in the “Rite of Dedication of a Church and Altar” for the blessing of the foundation stone. The prayers ask God’s blessing for the success of the building process and also remind the parishioners that the structure they are building of stone will be a visible sign of the living church, which is God’s building formed of people.
Peter used the image of cornerstone because, in his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has become the foundation of the church, which is built of living stones. All of us who follow Jesus pattern our lives on his life, service and love.
The second image in today’s readings is that of the shepherd. Shepherds were a common sight on the hillsides of Palestine and people in an agrarian society could distinguish good shepherds from hirelings who saw their work as simply a way to earn a living. Good shepherds cared for their sheep and had a relationship with their animals. The sheep trusted the good shepherds and followed their direction.
We have less experience with shepherds today, but we know farmers and see how many care for their animals with dedication.
Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd who knows each of us, who calls us by name, who cares for us with great kindness, who loves us personally and who has already laid down his life for us.
As we hear the images of cornerstone and shepherd in the prayers, readings and hymns, we give thanks for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who continues to be with us in the gift of the Eucharist. And on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we pray for all those called to ministry in the church — that they may continue to care for God’s people with the dedication and love of the Good Shepherd.
Sr. Rehrauer is president of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, Bay Settlement, and former associate director of the Liturgy Secretariat for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.