The Story of the Three Stonecutters

After running the Santiago Corre this morning, I rushed home and through a delightfully icy shower just in time to attend Domingo Misa in the serene ILAC chapel.  Those next tens of minutes, I toyed with the idea of retiring upstairs to my bed as the tired tenderness of my body, the gentle breeze that played with my hair, and the soothing sounds of La Palabra de Dios nearly lulled me to sleep. But, I am ever so glad that I somehow stayed strong during the homily, because I caught a neat little parable that has had me thinking ever since. It’s called the Story of the Three Stonecutters:

A man came across three stonecutters and asked them what they were doing. The first replied, “I am making a living.” The second kept on hammering while he said, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire county.” The third looked up with a visionary gleam in his eye and said, “I am building a cathedral.”

There are three kinds of people in this world…We all know those first-stonecutter-types, indeed we ourselves default to that short-sightedness from time to time (especially on dreary mornings.) His is the short-term perspective; the inability to raise one’s eyes above the present momentary exchange of work for pay. In fact, its safe to say that such a narrow view breeds complaints, and therefore chokes out most daily cheer or any true sense of fulfillment. But, take the second stonecutter– his perspective is attractively furnished with a strong sense of individualism. He has high aspirations, abundant passion, and finds the purpose of his work in cultivating his talents to be the best. The limits of his imagination are the limits of mankind’s imagination; they are sky-high and greatness-bound. The driven individualist clearly will find happiness as he propels himself toward glory, but what of fulfillment? I think some of us already know the answer to this by years of trial and error. Again, with the third stonecutter, the audience is able to picture the very scene and perhaps draw parallels with individuals we have crossed paths with as he answers with a “visionary gleam in his eye.” We know something is exceptional here.  His response reveals the mindset of one who believes that a grander mission is always unfolding, grander even than his own solid successes. Not only is he making a living for himself, not only does the stone before him become more beautiful with every chip that flies from his hammer, but he is here, this very day, to play his role in a tremendous feat. He is building a cathedral. Here thrives purpose, happiness, and fulfillment. I am fond of the interpretation of the final stonecutter given by Drew Faust, the president of Harvard University:

The third stonecutter embraces a broader vision. Interesting, I think, that the parable has him building a cathedral—not a castle or a railway station or a skyscraper. Testimony in part, of course, to the antiquity of the tale. But revealing in other ways as well. The very menial work of stonecutting becomes part of a far larger undertaking, a spiritual as well as a physical construction. This project aspires to the heavens, transcending the earthbound—and indeed transcending the timebound as well, for cathedrals are built not in months or even years, but over centuries. A lifetime of work may make only a small contribution to a structure that unites past and future, connects humans across generations and joins their efforts to purposes they see as far larger than themselves.

Through such a simple parable, we are reminded of the big picture which always overarches our daily handful of time-currency. The purpose behind our everyday tasks is threefold: to make a living, to be great, and to serve a higher good. Our God-given task is to remember all three. I was asked the question “what is your dream job?” thrice this week in various interviews. Though as of right now I am not yet able to articulate exactly what I want to do as a career, although I do have a few conditions in accord with my general talents and desires, I am sure of how I want to do it. I want to always be aware of the sublime masterpiece that we are a part of; I want to go about my everyday with the vision of the third stonecutter.

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