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Homily – Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran

November 9, 2008

I Figured it out!

If you’re a glutton for punishment, and you’d like to hear this thing delivered live, here’s the link:

Homily – Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran, Nov. 8, 2008

OK, a pop quiz.  This is the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran.  Here’s the question:

The Basilica of St. John Lateran is: a. a really big church named after St. John Lateran; b. The main cathedral of the diocese of Rome; c. Mother cathedral of the Universal Church.  By show of hands, how many say “a.”?  “b.”?  “c.”?  Both “b.” and  “c.”?

The full name of the Basilica is the Arch-basilica of the Most Holy Savior, and Saint John the Baptist and John the Evangelist at the Lateran, Ecumenical Mother Church of the Whole Inhabited World, because it is the parish church of the Pope, and because it was the first cathedral church in all of Christianity. Until the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, Christians met in secret; once Emperor Constantine ended the persecution of Christians, they began to occupy public buildings. The Basilica of St. John Lateran was first dedicated in 324 AD by Pope Sylvester I, who established it as the Cathedral of Rome.

Of course, one might be tempted to say, “Aw, that’s nice!”, and nod off.  But I think it might help to consider this:  What’s the significance of any church building?  Why should we care about this, or any, temple?

Maybe the readings today give us some clue.  In the first reading, Ezekiel describes a vision in which he sees waters flowing out of the temple “into the eastern district down upon the Arabah”.  He describes how this water makes the “salt waters” fresh.  He talks about how this river brings food, and life.  Ezekiel describes the temple as life-giving.

In the second reading, Paul describes the Church in Corinth as “God’s building”.  He describes the community as “the temple of God”, and “holy”.

Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus himself refers to the temple of His body when He says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Jews thought He was talking about the actual Temple in Jerusalem which had been under construction for 46 years; the Apostles only understood this after the Resurrection.

So today’s readings tell us that the temple of God gives forth life-giving water.  They tell us that we, the Church, are the Temple of God as a community, as the Body of Christ, and they tell us that this temple cannot be kept down!

But what in the world does any of that have to do with St. John Lateran?

Well, consider this.  We worship in buildings; St. John Lateran ranks first among those buildings, and the feast day celebrates that ecumenical mother church’s dedication.  The Church, when it started worshiping in St. John Lateran, finally moved out of the shadows and into the light of the world, to be the light of the world.  All of this imagery applies directly to us.

Paul tells us that we are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God lives in us!  So…what?  Well, if we’re the Temple of God, then life-giving waters ought to flow from us, and we ought to see the effects of that flow around us!  If we’re the Body of Christ, then people ought to see in us the hands and feet of Christ at work!  If we, the Church, are Christ’s Body on earth, then, no matter what calamity happens to us, no matter what challenges we have to face as a parish, as Catholics in the US, or as a world-wide Church, we can keep going knowing that nothing can destroy Christ’s Temple, The Church!

But it can seem pretty dark sometimes, in our parish, and in our Church, depending on how you see things.  And you may be unhappy about some aspects of  our community.  But what are we supposed to do with that?

Well, I’ll tell you what I think we’re supposed to do with it:  We’re supposed to stand up.  We’re supposed to step out.  And we’re supposed to be what Christ has already told us that we are: His Body, the temple of God!  We’re supposed to be the source of the solutions!

So, if something is not the way it should be in the world, we have to step out!  If sin of abortion bothers us (as it should all of us), then we have to step out and be heard.  If we don’t think the poor are well cared for, then we have to step out, and not wait for government or anyone else to do something about it!  If we think that there is too much violence in the world, then we have to step out, and get involved in the lives of people at risk from violence in our community!  If we think that unwed pregnant women should have more options than abortion, then we have to step out, and make sure that those women have the resources and the love they need to be able to give their children life instead of death.

Whatever our issues, at the end of the day, Christ calls us to stand up, and to be His presence in the world.  He calls us to take our worship of him inside this building, into the world, outside this building!

So, the Feast of St. John Lateran is not just about a building.  This feast day is about the Church, our Church, the Body of Christ, the Temple of God and dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.  The building is special, but not just because of its bricks; the building is significant because of what flows from it: the Body of Christ, sent into the world to be Christ’s life-giving presence in that world.

Christ calls us to stand up for Him in the world.  Christ sends us to be the waters flowing form His temple, bringing life, and bearing fruit in the world.  He calls us to recognize that, no matter what happens in the world around us, this Body of Christ, this Temple of the Holy Spirit that is God’s Church, cannot be destroyed.  St. John Lateran has been wrecked by earthquakes and burned by fires more times than one can count over the centuries; it’s still there.

And so is Christ’s Church.  And our mission, our calling, is to flow, like the waters Ezekiel saw in his vision, into the desert of the culture around us to bring lifeWe are the Church.  We are the Body of Christ. And we have to get up, get out, and be the force that brings life to the world!

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