At first blush today's feast known as "The Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome" sounds really strange. Why should you and I be asked to celebrate the feast day of a particular church? This special church, one of the four major basilicas in Rome, stands on the site
of an ancient palace which formerly belonged to the Lateran family. For the first three centuries the followers of Jesus could not gather together to worship publicly in Rome. In the 4th century the emperor Constantine, after he became a Christian, donated a wing of the Lateran family palace to the Church.
For a thousand years it was the Pope's official residence. For centuries this basilica, whose front door portal reads "the mother and head of all churches of Rome and the world" has served as the Pope's cathedral church. St. John Lateran and not St. Peter's remains the Pope's cathedral church in his primary
role as the Bishop of Rome
Today's feast, friends, reminds us of our roots and our center. We celebrate the worldwide fellowship that has marked our history through the ages.
Through the centuries the walls of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the first Church in Christendom have heard tales of conversion and persecution, triumph and defeat, bitterness and forgiveness. . . new life and growth as sinners and saints worshiped and prayed to the Lord. Through
the years the walls of the various parish churches that have nurtured and nourished you and me have heard our stories as well. Those welcome walls, central to our lives, have listened to the thousands of prayers that have been whispered, proclaimed, or sung to the Lord. In our Eucharistic liturgies and
services, whether in community or solitary worship, we have continued to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles through whom God has given us the gift of faith.
Temples in the ancient world claimed the allegiance of the people. In ancient Israel from the time of Solomon onward the Jerusalem Temple was the only place where sacrifices were to be offered to the Yahweh (Adonai), the God of Israel. In today's psalm we heard the Temple described as
"the holy dwelling of the Most High", as the stronghold of Israel, because of God's special presence there. (Cf. Daniel Harrington, America, November 3, 2008, p. 3) Yet King Solomon's temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed six centuries before Jesus. When the people returned from exile to their
homeland they were allowed to rebuild their Temple. Later, during the time of Jesus, this Second Temple was embellished in even more splendid style.
Imagine, now, friends, the Jerusalem temple as made up of many buildings and installations. (It's tempting to think that perhaps Joseph in his own youth had been not a carpenter, but rather a construction worker on the temple additions.) In one of its buildings Simeon and Anna had
greeted Mary and Joseph as they brought their newborn son for his circumcision. In a temple-building Jesus, a runaway youth. had questioned and listened to the teachers of the Law.
This Second Temple, under construction for forty-six years, had become "big business." With its many construction workers, administrators, innkeepers, providers, all those who were need to take care of the constant crowds of pilgrims who came on the holy.
Today the evangelist focuses on the young Rabbi visiting the Temple at Passover time. We can easily imagining Jesus reminiscing about his former visits to the "house of his Father." A mounting anger rose in this stalwart champion of the poor as he noted what was going on. Poor people
who could not afford to bring ritually clean animals for sacrifice had to buy such animals from the temple traders who raised the prices sky high. He spotted the money changers as smiling, a few of them perhaps sheepishly, as they padded their commissions--and changed foreign coins into temple shekels.
Religion was being abused by unending demands for money--- not a new phenomenon, friends.
The temple had become a maelstrom which the young Messiah boldly confronted. With his whip of cords still in his hand, he blazed forth: "Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" Zeal for the "house of his Father" consumed him. "What sign can you show us for upsetting all that we
do and ruining our business?" they asked him. In reply Jesus pointed to himself and referred to himself as a "temple": "Destroy me - this temple, me--- and in three days I will raise it up." Aware of the fallout that would move against him Jesus' concern for the integrity of the holy place moved him to act.
About forty years after the his death the Roman armies of Titus level this Second Temple to the ground. The temple of Jesus' body, however, once risen, lives forever. Jesus had proclaimed himself as the "center of God's presence." John, in the preceding chapter in his Gospel, had
already told us that the Word of God had become flesh and had pitched his tent among us.
You and I by our holy baptism are members of the body of Jesus. Rightly we can see ourselves as " temples of the Lord" due to the Holy Spirit living in us. By our faith in the Lord Jesus we have been gifted as places where God is present in a special way. Continue to look at yourself
in your bathroom mirror, but pause once in a while to look at yourselves with grateful eyes of faith-and see yourselves as living "temples of the Lord".
It is indeed helpful to use figures of speech to help us see ourselves as we really are, to grow into our genuine identity. All our lives you and I are constantly challenged with God's grace, to live out the awareness that Jesus lives in us and makes us holy through his Spirit.
When you look at yourself with faith-filled eyes try to see yourselves, each in her or his uniqueness, as a "dwelling place" of the Lord, as a "temple of the Most High". For many years I have spoken to you the deep truth that God in his wondrous, consuming love for you and me has
gifted us with the presence of himself in us.
I have stressed that our challenge is to struggle to grow into finding out just who you and I really are-the "beloved of God." . . . "temples of the Lord". This faith-journey to discover the "true or genuine self" never separates you and me from other people. Rather it inspires us to
love them more deeply-and to serve them with ever increasing compassion,.
The famous Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, was, at times, unabashedly arrogant. But when he grew to discover his true self, he could write lines that flamed with love. Merton writes of a memorable day in his journey:
In Louisville. . . in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine, and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.. . . it was like wakening from a
dream of separateness. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)
May you and I grow in seeing ourselves as "one with others and with loving them in their deep-down goodness. Our lives become increasingly meaningful as we discover ourselves and others as the "beloved of God."
We recall the throbbing lines from the poem "God's Grandeur" by a young Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins, who is now recognized as the major poet of the Victorian age, writes:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out like shining from shook foil. It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil. Crushed.
Superb poetry, friends, with a great deal of truth to it. God's grandeur is somehow present in each and every thing and in each and every one of us. You and I are "charged" or "electrified" with the grandeur of God. And we are "charged" to proclaim his loving presence to others by how
we live. In striking ways all creation-from a fawn roaming near my front yard or a beautiful Fall day, dappled in sunlight proclaim his presence to eyes of belief.
No matter how bleak and barren things may appear in today's moral "culture of death" which constantly threatens our values there remains always the truth that Jesus is rise and his resurrected presence somehow permeates everything. May the Holy Spirit help us to realize that truth of
faith. In the words of Hopkins:
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things. . . because the holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings."
Read other homilies by Father Paul