The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica.
Cycle A 9th November 2014.
John 2:13-22. 1 Corinthians 3: 9-11, 16-17. Ezekiel 47:1-12
Tony van Vuuren
Today we celebrate the Dedication of St John Lateran Basilica, the oldest and one of the most important Christian basilica in Rome. In the 4th Century AD, the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine, having allowed Christians the freedom of practicing their faith, built a chapel on land that had been given to him by his wife’s family; the Laterani family; hence the name Lateran.
Throughout the centuries, that chapel has been destroyed, rebuilt, expanded and renovated numerous times; but it has always been recognized as the Cathedral Church of the Bishop of Rome; the Pope.
St Peter’s is not the Pope’s home church! He only works there. We only get to celebrate this dedication as a weekend mass when 9th November falls on a Sunday.
As impressive as the Lateran Basilica is- both visually and historically- what is most compelling is how it expresses the purpose of the church. There is an inscription found in the baptistery that reads; “This is the fountain of life, which cleanses the whole world, taking its course from the wounds of Christ.” A powerful reminder that the church exists to carry on the work of Christ in the world.
The prophet Ezekiel went to the exiled Israelites with a message of hope. A new temple will emerge, better than the old. From this temple will flow a river of water that brings life and healing. God tells his disheartened people not to dwell on their present circumstances, but to look to him and trust in his promises.
We know God’s vision for his temple was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ own body was the “temple” that was destroyed but raised up again by the power of God. Now as members of Christ’s body, the church, we are part of this holy temple. Jesus is the source of the river from which we receive life, power and grace. Through our baptism, our very bodies are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. We ourselves are meant to become channels of grace and healing. The Church is the building, the Church is the Body of Believers and the Church is within us.
St. Paul tells the Corinthians in our second reading two truths that we need to take heed of when examining those channels to which I refer. We are told “You are God’s building”. And we are asked “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” This is where our deepest reflection needs to focus.
What is God’s creation (us) looking like these days, on the inside (our private spiritual life) and on the outside (how we share what we believe)? How are we fulfilling the purpose for which we were made? Have we figured out yet what that might be?
Do we act as if we are “owned” by God the master builder and truly directed by the Holy Spirit? Do we reflect God’s internal life within us by sharing the wellspring of God’s graces with others?
There is that saying that we may be the only Bible that someone might read. Perhaps we might also consider that we might be the only “church building” someone might also encounter. Are we welcoming? Are we authentic in what we do? Are we keeping up with our upkeep? Genuine religion is not wishy-washy. It requires total commitment and complete dedication. It’s an all-or-nothing matter.
We see this in today’s Gospel. Jesus burns with zeal for God. The Temple was the place where God’s presence was meant to be honoured and revered. But Jesus discovers that God’s House of Prayer has been replaced with buying and selling and making money. So Jesus reacts passionately, zealously, and almost fanatically. He completely disrupts the ordinary routine of this most sacred place in Israel. He even offers himself as the new Temple; the place where God dwells and where God is to be found.
He wants to enter the temple of our hearts, to root out everything there that takes the place of God in our lives. It might be the love of money, pride, envy, lust, or the desire to dominate and even bully others. It might be bitterness, resentment, lack of forgiveness, or any number of false gods we might be placing at the centre of our lives.
On the other hand, prayer, the sacraments, reading and reflecting on the scriptures, fidelity in our relationships, our strivings to be humble, just and compassionate in our reaching out to others, are all ways in which we prepare a place for God in our hearts.
But Jesus also wants us to be the presence of Christ, and therefore the presence of God for others. He calls us to this not just as individuals, but also as the Christian community, the Church.
Jesus burns with passion to make this happen, to create a community where God can dwell. Faced with his passion, his zeal, we can feel frightened and walk away. Or we can let ourselves be caught up in his zeal for God, and participate in the great mission of the Church on earth. To make God known in such an appealing way that many more people will respond to God as love, and respond to God as the beginning, the middle, and the end of their lives.
This is what we celebrate this weekend. St John Lateran isn’t just an ancient historical site. It is a symbol of the living church; vibrant and gushing with the living water of divine love and life. We should not be afraid to take a drink! Plunge in! Swim out into the deep, transforming waters of God’s love and grace.