Saturday, November 8, 2014

Nov. 9, 2014: Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran - Sunday A

Click to hear audio homily
Today the Church celebrates the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome because it is the head and mother church of all churches in the world. Just as Bishop Muench has a cathedral,  Pope Francis’ cathedral is the Basilica of St. John Lateran and not the Basilica of St. Peter. Celebrating the dedication of the Pope’s cathedral today shows our unity with the Pope Francis and our love and respect for him. It also shows that we are united with each other in the Church.

Every weekend, many parents have to answer the following perennial question from their children (and perhaps even from the adults themselves). “Why do I have to go to church?”  Some of the reasons for protesting are: ‘Didn’t God say that we should rest and relax on Sunday?’ ‘I get more out of reading the bible at home than going to church.’ ‘Personally, I pray better on a deer stand than at church.’ Perhaps the common thread in those questions is this--”What do I get out of going to church and to mass?”

This past Sunday, the topic at our confirmation class was who is the Holy Spirit. To demonstrate how to listen to the Holy Spirit, the students were told to form two lines and then they were blindfolded. Each student placed their hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them and then a teacher and I each led a line outside to the parking lot. As we meandered through the parking lot, another teacher distracted the students by shouting out: “You just got a text. Go check it out!” “I wonder who just called me on the cell.” “I need to pray!” “What’s that girl wearing? That’s cute!” These comments died down as we made our way into the church. Once they were seated and still blindfolded, they were treated to silence and then a praise and worship song was played. Back at the classroom, students were asked about their experience. Some said, “It was so peaceful,” while others said, “I felt like I was in heaven.”  

We forget that the our daily environment is a noisy, dusty, and tiring place that often beats us down. Our soul craves for rest from all that scatteredness. The Church building is a haven, a quiet refuge, a place to encounter God.  Here we drink deeply of the life-giving waters of word and sacrament that revive our drooping spirits.  The grace that flows from the altar bears us back into the world, changed, and able to change others, bringing healing and bearing fruit.

Perhaps the reason behind Jesus’ provocative action in the temple in the Gospel today is that we don’t recognize that we need that sacred space and time to encounter the Lord. Instead we have a tendency to fill that sacred time and place with worldly preoccupations.  The world tells us that we are consumers, employees and voters, and flashes a constant stream of images at us every day to remind us of this. We forget that God has come to meet us here in this sacred space. But the Church building is a mirror, held up before us, and reminds us of who we are. It reminds us of our deepest identity. As we gather for Sunday worship, we who were scattered by diverse loyalties, professions, and life-styles, are now united as the Body of Christ and the dwelling place of the Spirit. Here he has shown us his face and opened up his heart to us.  What a privilege!

What is it like, however, to live without this encounter with God in the Church? Several weeks ago our confirmation class visited another church where four parishioners gave their testimonies. These parishioners were from a variety of backgrounds, some from good families and some from broken ones. They all credited finding and encountering God in that church as the turning point in their lives. They now spend as much time as they can in the church praying and reading bible and all of them wished that they could have done that far sooner in their lives. As our confirmation class was departing that church, we had to wait for a prison guard to open the barbed wire gate. As we walked back to our cars in the parish prison parking lot, we saw for ourselves the grim reality of finding God too late.

How about you? What reasons do you give to God sometimes for not going to church? What choices will you make now to make sure that you will encounter God and be changed by Him every week?