09 November 2008 – 32 Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
Ezekiel 47: 1-2, 8-9, 12; Psalm 84: 3-6, 8, 11; 1 Corinthians 3; 9c-11, 16-17; St. John 2, 13-22
Today we are commemorating two different occasions.
Firstly, today is kept as Remembrance Sunday in Canada and many Commonwealth countries. And so we call to mind those who lost their lives in the two world wars and in the many conflicts since.
It is appropriate that we keep alive the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we might live our lives free from tyranny. We should not forget that, while war is something to be avoided whenever possible, it is also important that certain God-given values should be defended at all costs.
So it is fitting that we pay tribute to those who gave their lives in these conflicts. But it is also our earnest prayer that future generations may live their lives in an atmosphere of peace and trust between nations.
If the Gospel means anything at all, it means the avoidance of war and the promotion of peace and mutual understanding. With the unforgettable words of Christ “Blessed are the peacemakers” in mind, we also pay tribute to those who work for the promotion of peace in the world of today.
The second occasion we are commemorating is the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. You might think that this is a rather strange thing to be celebrating but in every church throughout the world the day of its dedication is kept as a feast.
The Mother Church
Nearly 1700 years ago, in ancient Rome, Christians wanted a parish home and they built the first church, the Lateran Basilica. Today, we join all Catholic churches throughout the world to celebrate the dedication of the Lateran Basilica. History tells us why.
Newly converted to Christ, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in the year 313. After three centuries of persecution, Christianity was now a legal religion within the Roman Empire. Followers of Jesus finally had the right to public worship.
The Church of St. John Lateran. Historically, the first church built after Christians were legally permitted to hold public worship. We celebrate its dedication.
Our Mother Church is our parish. What did I do to fulfill my responsibility for this church, for this community where I am living?
Does Jesus has to reproach me too: “stop making my Father's house a marketplace.” (J 13:16). What is my behavior in the church, do I see it as the holy space consecrated to God, or rather as a
"We Are the Church"
Reminds me of the song "We Are the Church." The song begins, "The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people."3 "We are the church, we are the people of God."4
Paul said it in his letter to the Corinthians, our second reading today. He wrote, "Brothers and sisters: You are God’s building.... you are the temple of God, ... the Spirit of God dwells in you.... [And,] the temple of God, which you are, is holy."
The Greek word Paul uses for the word "you" is plural. In English, we do not distinguish between "you" meaning one person, and "you" meaning several people. Writing in Greek, Paul uses the plural word for "you." By the "temple of God" Paul means the community of believers, the church. Gathered as the followers of Christ, we are church, we are the temple of God.
Am I not destroying this temple of God?
Our Sacred Place
That being said, to assemble, we need a building. The Christians in Rome built the Lateran Basilica; we build a parish church. Here in our parish church we do the sacred actions of the people of God.
That’s the purpose of our church, to make God present to us. At church we receive the Sacraments. We hear the Word of God proclaimed, telling us about God and giving us guidance on how to live the holy Christian life.
The center of our church life is Eucharist. When we take Communion, we have a face to face meeting with Christ. I like the dialogue used for Communion in some eastern Rites of our Roman Catholic Church. The person will whisper his or her name to the priest, who then says, "Robert, servant of God, receives the Body of the Lord," or "Catherine, handmaid of God, receives the Body of the Lord." Our dialogue is simpler. The priest says, "The Body of Christ;" we respond, "Amen." When we receive Holy Communion, there is no doubt that God knows us by name (Isaiah 43:1).
In this building, we encounter God. Perhaps we stop for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, to say a prayer before the Tabernacle. Perhaps we come as a prodigal son or daughter to meet the merciful Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Perhaps we come as a young couple to proclaim our love before the altar, and to ask that God to bless our married life together.
The word “church” has different meanings and connotations:
- Written in capital C – is the Body of Christ, the community of His disciples, the Bride of Christ, the Holy Church of God – whom I am destroying by my sins and negligence
- written in small c – is the building where I am suppose to meet the Church in capital C, the community. But this building should be also honored, because it is the place where I meet my God. Do I not behave in this sacred (consecrated) place like in the cafeteria or town hall?
In its history, our church has withstood the persecutions of a hostile Roman Empire, endured scandals of both of our times and of other times, has stood firm against heresy, and even endured when people showed a general lack of interest.
As we celebrate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, let us keep our church, our Father’s house, as pure and holy and Christ wants His church to be.