November 9, 2014 – Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
“Brothers and Sisters…Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwells in you?” With those words St. Paul connects the temple found in the first reading to each of us. Today is the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. It may seem unusual to celebrate a Feast commemorating a church building, but the Lateran Basilica is more than just a building to us Catholics.
The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome. This is not St. Peter’s at the Vatican, but it is the Pope’s cathedral. It was built in the time of the Emperor Constantine and was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324. Almost 1,700 years old, it was the baptism church of ancient Rome. In 313 Constantine issued an edict which granted Christians the freedom to practice their religion. St. John Lateran was built on the exact spot where Constantine had a vision leading him to issue that edict. For that reason alone this Feast is worthy of our celebration.
However, as you might expect, the readings for this Feast Day speak to churches and buildings and then, as indicated above, St. Paul associates those to us personally. In the Word of God a temple of stones becomes a living Church to us with Jesus as the foundation and the cornerstone. Our churches are more than just places of worship. They represent an order and structure to our Church which enhances our relationship to Christ. Pope Benedict XVI put it this way: “My friends, today’s feast celebrates a mystery that is always relevant: God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships Him in spirit and truth.”
Many Gospel scholars conclude that the waters running from the temple in the first reading represent the Gospel of Christ which went forth and spread throughout the world. The volume of the waters increases as they flow, even though there is no indication of tributaries or other waters flowing into them. We, as stewards of the word, are to take these living waters and to spread them everywhere we go as disciples.
In the second reading St. Paul declares to the Corinthians that in Corinth he, Paul, laid a foundation. That foundation, of course, is Jesus Christ, and it is on that foundation that the church is built. However, Paul cautions the Corinthians to “be careful” how they build on that foundation. Furthermore Paul reminds them that the temple is not just the building in which they worship, but he also speaks to each individual, and each of us, in writing, “…you are the temple of God and…the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Paul places the concept of temple on three levels: the building, the community, and each individual member. Stewardship calls us to keep in mind all of those as we are the stewards of our churches, our faith communities, and our individual lives.
The Gospel from John is a passage that is likely familiar to many. Jesus visits the temple and is upset by what is going on in the plaza outside, filled with vendors and money changers. Following His reaction to what He found, and after He “drove them all out of the temple area,” the Lord was asked, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Of course, His answer to that is one that we may know but we may not always understand it. Jesus said “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” John explains that those who heard this answer were confused because the temple had been under construction for decades and how could it be rebuilt in three days? “But he was speaking about the temple of his body.”
Just as Paul describes more than one temple, the Lord does as well. Jesus knew of His death and resurrection. The Lord knew that His body could not be destroyed. The message to us is that our temples, our bodies, cannot be destroyed either if we become disciples of the Lord and commit to following Him, commit to living lives of stewardship, serving God, our Church, and one another.