Friday, 7 November 2008

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica - Year A

Ezekiel 47:1-2.8-9.12; 1Corinthians 3:9-11.16-17; John 2:13-22

A seminary lecturer of mine was always telling us how important it was ‘to know what you’re doing when you’re doing it’. It was that consciousness of what we were doing which we should all have at all times.

Knowing what you’re doing is more than ‘concentrating’. It is rather more to do with knowing the meaning and significance of what you’re doing at the very time you are doing it.

If we apply this notion to today’s feast we will make an effort to discover what exactly we're celebrating. However, first some necessary facts from the Catholic Encyclopaedia:
  • The Basilica of St John Lateran is the oldest, and ranks first among the four great "patriarchal" basilicas of Rome. The other three are Santa Maria Maggiore, St Paul Outside the Walls and, of course, St Peter’s.
  • The site was, in ancient times, occupied by the palace of the family of the Laterani. When one of the family members was accused of conspiracy the site was confiscated.
  • It came eventually into the hands of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, who must have given it to the Church no later than about 311.
  • From that time onwards it was always the centre of Christian life within the city of Rome; the residence of the popes and the cathedral of Rome. St John Lateran is still the Pope’s cathedral but no longer his home. She is known as the mother and head of all the churches in Christendom.
Today, then, we are celebrating the ‘motherhouse’ of our Catholic Church; the cathedral of the whole world and, by implication, every single church in Christendom, particularly our own.
  • We celebrate our rightful place in world as those who follow and worship Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. Just as St John Lateran stands there in Rome in full view of its citizens and, indeed, of the entire world so do we Christians stand proudly in our particular place and before the rest of the world as disciples of Jesus.
  • In a real way we are today celebrating very consciously, and unselfconsciously, our identity as Catholics. We are children of the Catholic Church; she is our mother. Despite our many failings and flaws we need not apologise for being sheep in the flock of Christ’s Church. Today we look to Rome and hold our heads high.
  • We celebrate our right to worship and our right to that freedom which we in the West exercise every day. Not every country has this freedom. In China there are severe restrictions, as there are in many Moslem countries. When we walk through the door today we should ‘know what we are doing when we are doing it’; we are exercising and giving joyful thanks for freedom of worship.
  • We celebrate today also the long history of Christianity brought to us by the Apostles and those who succeeded them. We are part of that history; leaves on the branch of that tree. We celebrate the faith of the Apostles by celebrating the mother church of the first of the Apostles, Peter and his successors.
  • At the same time we celebrate the history of our local parish church. This church is a gift to us from our ancestors whose commitment and hard work established it for us. They remained faithful to their worship and sacrificed to build this church in which we now worship. It is a beautiful church, despite the ravages of time and the need for repair.
  • As we celebrate the building we celebrate also the community, and even more importantly, we celebrate communion. The community of ‘regulars’ is not large in this church but it is there nonetheless; faithful members of Christ’s flock who come here as to a home which belongs to them. And it is within these four walls that they express, together with the ‘visitors’ (although no Catholic is really ever a visitor in a Catholic church), their communion with Christ and with one another; a reality even deeper than community.
  • We celebrate today also our communion with Rome, with the successor of Peter and all the bishops united with him. Today we look beyond the grounds of St Joseph’s to the mater et caput (mother and head) of the whole Church, as we rejoice at her universality and the unity we share. This unity originates in and is nourished by the food of the Word and Eucharist with which we are fed at the table of the Lord. This table is found only in the Church.
  • Finally, by celebrating this feast today we celebrate also our mission, the call we have from the Master to go out from this church to our local community and ‘preach the Good News’ by our words and deeds. This mission cannot be overlooked or bypassed. It is our task and our privilege and we rejoice in the love of God who entrusts it to us.
Let this be a joyful day for us as we celebrate with the Universal Church the goodness of God in Jesus his Son. As he took on flesh for us, so the material walls of our churches point back to him, our Divine Lord, who is the source of our hope.

No comments: