Monday, November 9, 2015

Nov. 9, 2015 Monday: Dedication of Basilica of St. John Lateran

Nov. 9, 2015 Monday: Dedication of Basilica of St. John Lateran

Today we celebrate the feast of the most important Church liturgically in the whole world, the Pope’s Cathedral, which proudly proclaims in ancient plaques at the entrance, Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput, “The most holy Church of the Lateran, the mother and head of all the churches of the city (Rome) and the world.” The Lateran is the mother of every church edifice because it was the first Christian basilica in history; it is the head, because Rome, the see of St. Peter, is the principal local Church in the world, and the Lateran is the principal Church of the Diocese of Rome. The Lateran, not St. Peter’s, is the Pope’s Cathedral, where his cathedra, the chair symbolic of his teaching authority, rests. The Lateran, not the Vatican, is where the Popes resided for the first millennium of legalized Christianity. It’s where they celebrated Mass. It’s where they gave their special blessings. This is the reason why on November 9 all the members of the daughter Churches throughout the world celebrate the feast of the dedication of their Head and Mother. St. John Lateran is, we can loosely say, the Cathedral of the world.

When Jesus spoke to St. Francis from the Crucifix in the Church of St. Damien in Assisi saying, “Francis, rebuild my house that you can see is falling into ruins,” Francis mistakenly thought the Lord was asking him to repair the dilapidated Church of St. Damian, a project he finished quickly. But little did St. Francis know that he had misinterpreted the Lord and that the Lord had another rebuilding project in mind.It started with Francis himself, who responded to God’s grace to follow the Lord Jesus completely, uniting himself to the Lord by means of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. Soon, many others joined Francis in this pursuit. Eventually they went to Rome to seek the approval of their statutes.The night before they were going to have an audience with Pope Innocent III, the pontiff had a dream and saw a man in a simple, poor man’s woolen habit holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran, next to papal residence at the time. The next day during his audience, Innocent III saw the very friar from his dream come on in with his closest followers. Pope Innocent III properly interpreted the dream he had received: St. Francis of Assisi was being called to rebuild the Church as a whole, symbolized by the Cathedral of St. John Lateran. He was being called to rebuild the entire household of God.

How did St. Francis rebuild the Church? He helped bring the Church back to her foundations so that the Church could be rebuilt stone by stone on the foundation of Christ. St. Peter gave the Church’s architectural plans in his first letter: “Come to [Christ], a living stone, rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ himself is the foundation of the Church, the cornerstone. And the Church is the spiritual house built of living stones on this foundation. These living stones are those who build their life on Christ, those who are trying to become saints. The Church is made not of marble, wood, bricks and glass, but of men, women, boys and girls, living stones erected on Christ the cornerstone. To celebrate the Feast of the Lateran is to recommit ourselves as living stones building our entire lives on Christ. Our new Holy Father, who took his papal name from St. Francis, has been charged with the reform of the Church and that reform he’s carrying out involves bringing the entire Church back into shape, by helping to make of us a true temple, individually and together with others, built entirely and soundly on Christ.

The readings of today’s Mass help us to ponder this personal, parochial and universal rebuilding project. In the Gospel, we see Jesus declare that the temple is meant to be his Father’s house, a house of prayer not a den of thieves and sin. He overturned tables and formed a cord to drive out whatever was unfit, whatever was not holy and consecrated to God and his service. We began this Mass asking the same Lord to have mercy on us and drive out from within us whatever is unfit. They asked him to give a sign of his authority to clean the temple and he cryptically said, “Destroy this temple and in three days rebuild it,” something that St. John tells us he said referring to his death and resurrection, which was the rebuilding of the true temple of his body. Jesus is the true temple! And just like we see in the first reading from the Book of Ezekiel, when the water flowing from the eastern side of the Temple brought life to the temple and even resurrected the Dead Sea, so the water flowing with blood from the open side of Christ-the-Temple on Good Friday is what brings life to even the driest places on earth and, as the source of the sacramental life in the Church, raises people from the dead.

Jesus’ ultimate plan is to make of us a temple through uniting us totally with him. The temple is God’s dwelling place. Jesus, God-with-us, wants to be with us not just on the outside but on the inside. The Word made flesh wants to dwell not just “among” us but “within” us. That’s the shocking reality to which St. Paul points in today’s second reading: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? … The temple of God, which you are, is holy.” St. Paul calls the Corinthians and all of us to remember who we are as God’s dwelling place and live a life of union with God. God’s plan is for us to become a true tabernacle of God, just as much as the Blessed Virgin Mary was as she carried within her for nine months her embryonic Savior. Everything changes once we begin to view ourselves as a Church, and view others either as a Church or someone destined to be a Church. When we grasp this, and when we have basic love for God, the whole way we view ourselves and others changes. We begin to have reverence for God, for others, and for ourselves. And that’s the way all of us, together, grow into the temple of God. St. Paul uses the plural in the “you are the temple of God,” which all of us, as living stones, comprises, by each of us coming alive through having Christ within us. This was a truth that St. Francis himself reawakened among the people of the 13th century. It’s a reality that Pope Francis is trying to reawaken within us.

We become ever more the temple of God, the dwelling place of the Lord, when we receive God within during Holy Communion. This is where the water flowing from Christ’s side, “the waters of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High,”  as we prayed in the Psalm, flows within us. This is the place in which God the Master Builder, builds us on his Son. This is the most important and sacred moment in human life, as significant in our life as the Annunciation was in Mary’s and in the whole world. We actually receive God within! It is a moment that should never become routine or rushed. It is a moment in which we are called to ponder Whom we’re receiving and who and what we’re becoming.

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA