Friday 8 November 2019

Saturday, November 9, 2019 - Dedication of the Lateran Basilica - We are each and as a whole part of CHURCH

To read the texts click on the texts: Ez 47:1-2,8-9,12; 1 Cor 3:9-11,16-17; Jn 2:13-22
The Basilica of St John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome, the cathedra, or Chair, at which the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, presides. In order to express devotion and unity of all Catholics to the successor of Peter, the Church commemorates the dedication of the Lateran Basilica. Since the Pope presides in charity over the universal Church, the Lateran Basilica is affectionately called the "mother and head of all the churches of Rome and the world".

When the Cathedral in Milan was finished, in the vast throng of people assembled for the dedication, a little girl cried out in childish glee, as she pointed to it: I helped build that. One of the guards challenged her: “What? Show me what you did.” The girl replied, “I carried the lunch box for my father, while he worked there.” The cathedral, the Church the Basilica is not primarily a building but the people of God. Each of us and all of us help build up the Church.

It is interesting but mainly revealing that the gospel reading chosen for this feast in which we celebrate the Lateran Basilica would be Jesus cleansing the Temple. Much like the Temple was a significant and symbolic building for the Jewish people the Lateran Basilica serves in this capacity for us.

The first Christians gathered to pray in private homes. To be a Christian was for the first three hundred years after the Resurrection of Christ a crime of treason against the Roman state. Therefore, believers would meet secretly to hear the Gospel and break the bread. Today's feast commemorates the end of those many long years of terrible persecutions and martyrdom and the dedication of the Christians' first public place of worship.

While this was a welcome change for the first Christian community, it also began to soon struggle with a dilemma. The source of Jesus' power is found in weakness and poverty. While being an underground church this was easy to accept. Now, being accepted by the state, Christianity's power began to be aligned with fame and fortune, buildings and property, prestige and status. The church began to take on the political structure of the Roman state. Officials began to be identified by secular titles such as “prince of the church" (Cardinal) and "lord" (Bishop).While it is advantageous to have a place to worship and also advantageous to have a structure to maintain a sense of order, both, however, can also prevent us from encountering God by presenting an image of God that is quite different from the one that Jesus presented and revealed.

Writing during the period of Exile, the prophet Ezekiel dreamed of returning to his home in Israel and especially to the Temple. The vision narrated in the first reading of today is of water flowing from the Temple giving abundant life to the valley below, even to the arid, lifeless region around the Dead Sea. However, at the time of Jesus, this life giving water had dried up and the temple was no longer what it ought to have been.

The cleansing of the Temple is an incident that is narrated by all four evangelists. However, there are significant differences in the manner in which John narrates it when compared with the Synoptic Gospels. In John, the incident appears at the beginning of the Gospel and immediately after the Cana miracle of turning water into wine, and so sets the stage for the kind of revelation of God that Jesus makes in this Gospel. The temple in Jerusalem was considered the dwelling place of God on earth and a place where people expected to encounter God in prayer and sacrifice. However, as is evident in the actions of Jesus, the Temple had become instead a market place. When one considers that some trade and exchange of Tyrian coins for Roman or Greek coins was absolutely necessary for worship to proceed smoothly, one realizes that this action of Jesus is extremely radical and goes to the root of the meaning of worship and encountering God.

All religious institutional rootedness whether in the form of worship, unjust social systems or repressive religious practices are challenged by this action of Jesus.  Zeal for his Father’s house did indeed consume him when it led to his passion and death at the hands of religious authorities. While he was aware that this would be one of the main actions that would lead to his death, Jesus went even further when he pointed to himself as the new Temple, the new place of worship. In him a person encounters God as never before.

Thus, Christians, being identified with Christ in Baptism, are also temples of God, living temples of the Holy Spirit. Paul reminds the early Christians of the community at Corinth that they are themselves God’s Temple. God, in Christ, dwells in each one. Moreover, the whole community of Christians forms a temple, in which each Christian is a living stone, with Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

It is in the context of these readings that we must ask ourselves what we are really celebrating today. While it is true that the very orderly, stable and universal structure is surely to be celebrated in this feast and we need the certainty and conviction that comes from something that is consistent and bigger than ourselves, we also need to accept the fact that this is not all that the Church is. We also celebrate weakness in today’s feast. First, the weakness and numerous failures of each of us individuals who make up the Church, and also the failures and shortcomings of the Church as a whole. Both are in constant need of cleansing by the head of the Church Jesus Christ who continues to make all things whole.

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