Homily – Feast of St. John Lateran

Homily – Feast of St. John Lateran

Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. St. John Lateran was one of the very first Christian churches erected after the persecutions. Up until that time Christians had to worship in secret in the catacombs and or house churches. The emperor Constantine changed that by issuing the edict of Milan which made Christianity legal and allowed the construction of worthy places of worship of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He commissioned many churches including St. John Lateran and it was consecrated on this day in the year 326 by Pope Sylvester. It is called Mater Ecclesiae Romae urbis et Orbis. That is – The Mother of all Churches in Rome and the world: and so it is. It is especially important in our age in the United States that we celebrate this feast because there is a constant temptation to forget that we are indeed connected by a life giving bond to the Church of Rome. That is the Roman Catholic Church established by Jesus Christ. If we server that bond we cut ourselves off from the Church Christ established. There are many attempts from so called Catholics within the Church to say that they are American Catholics and speak of the American Catholic Church in an attempt to distance themselves from things they don’t like that come from Rome. There are always attempts from outside the Church as well. For some it is the issue of celibacy, others womenís ordination, our teaching on the artificial contraception and still for others abortion. I hate to disappoint them but they have nothing at all to say about it. And neither do we. We can accept or we can leave. To leave is to cut ourselves off from the mother Church, the Church Christ established and that has been with us for 2000 years. That is why it is important to remember who we are, and why we are here and where we came from and to celebrate our unity again. That is why we celebrate the feast of dedication of St. John Lateran.
But our Church is bigger than one building in Rome. It is bigger than any single building but is composed of temples throughout the world. All of our readings speak of these temples and it is important to understand what the temple was in order to understand church’s and temples today. We need to understand our heritage to put today in proper perspective.
A temple, for our Jewish ancestors, was a place where God resided and where God’s people went to encounter his presence, to offer sacrifice and to offer worship. From the very beginning when God resided with us in a tent in the desert it was considered the Holy of Holies. Priests would enter the sanctuary to offer sacrifice on behalf of the people for their sins and the people would await outside to hear the word of God when Moses came from the tent.
At the end of the Exodus when the people settled and entered the promised land God ordered the construction of a new temple. David wasn’t allowed to construct it because of his sin and that task of building it was left to Solomon. The will of God then is that the building of a temple is a holy task. But David began the collection of materials for the new temple so they would be ready for his son. Solomon did indeed construct a temple and he did so with the finest materials and most excellent craftsmen. The building, the vessels of worship, the vestments were all constructed with only the finest of materials. Why? Because this was where the people went to encounter God, to offer sacrifice for their sins and where God resided among them. The temple was the house of God and God deserves only the best; the first fruits of our labor.
The same should be true for us. Our Churchís are the places where we worship, where we come to encounter God, where God dwells present in the presence of the blessed sacrament in the tabernacle, and where we come to offer sacrifice for our sins. The Old Testament isnít abolished with the New; it is fulfilled. This is important for all of us to remember but in a special way for some of you. Some will be involved in starting the new parish. You will be on committees that make suggestions to the Bishop on how the new Church should be designed. We must build sacred places; beautiful places that lift our hearts and minds to God. Places that are fitting for God to dwell in. Places where people immediately know by looking at it that this is a house of God. Places fitting for the Worship of the King of Creation. The must be our best efforts with only the finest materials being used because anything else would fail to be a fitting place for God to dwell.
The second reading though tells us that we also are temples of God. How true it is. At our Baptism the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us, to dwell in our Hearts. The Divine life of the Triune God lives within us. When we receive the Eucharist: Jesus Christ truly present body, blood, soul, and divinity, we receive God directly and physically into us. We become for a few moments living Tabernacles. God is present in us. We ourselves are intended to be living temples. Living places of Worship. We are to take Godís presence from this Church into a world desperately starving for Christ.
As the first reading tells us living water should flow from us, the fruits of our labors should be food and medicine for the world. We must carry Christ to others in the temples of our bodies. But these temples must also be built worthy of the King of Kings.
Paul says the foundation has been laid for us and indeed it has at Baptism. That is what we must build on if we want to have a fitting temple for Christ. Not just our physical bodies but our spiritual lives must be built on the foundation of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Baptism as it says in the second reading. People should be able to look at us and see lives of beauty that lift their minds to God. I can tell you when you meet a living saint you are quite aware that you are in the presence of Christ. It is clear that Christ is present within them. That is how it must be for all of us.
Unfortunately many people choose to allow the money changers within their temple. The become more occupied with buying and selling in their temple than the do with the cultivation of the things of God. We too have money changers in our temples. If we worry more about work than our spiritual lives. If we become to busy to go to Church on Sundays or other things take precedence over the things of God. God gives us 168 hours a week and only asks one from us. We should give him more but even if we are minimalist that one should be sacred. Work, sports, sleep, vacation, camping, the lakeÖ. None of these can be allowed to take the place of God in our lives. If they do then we have clearly profaned our temples. The altar in our hearts at which we worship must be dedicated to Christ. We cannot worship at the altar of other Gods. We must ask Christ to grab his whip and drive out those disordered desires and put God where he belongs. He should be enthroned as King of Kings in the temple of our Hearts.
The temples we build must be the results of the first fruits of our labor. Godís dwelling place among us must be our first priority. Those temples can be the Churchís we build to worship God or they can be the temples of our hearts where God comes to dwell. The temples we build, whether our Churchís or our lives, tell everyone clearly how much value we place on Godís presence among us. If they are shabby, cheaply made, plain, drab, dreary or downright ugly then that communicates the importance we place on the things of God. Our spiritual lives and our Churchís should be things of beauty, sacred places that lift our hearts and minds to God. Places that clearly communicate that God is dwelling there and he is King. They should lift the hearts of others to desire to worship God. They should be fitting places for the King of Kings to be enthroned and worshiped and nothing should take more precedence than him.
What we build will be clearly seen by others. When the new Church goes up it will tell a lot about the hearts of those who built it and what they think is a worthy place to worship God. At the final judgment the temples we have built in our hearts for God will be clearly seen by all. In both cases I hope they are places of beauty with only the finest given to God. So the question I leave you with today is what do you want to build for God in your hearts and on this earth. It is worthy of some thought. Gather the materials as David did. Use only the finest materials for only they are fitting for Godís dwelling. Construct the temples carefully. Build them on the foundation of Christ Jesus. And let them be places of great beauty for all the world to see, where hearts and minds are lifted and inspired to worship God.


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