November 8, 2017

Feast of the Dedication of the Saint John Lateran Basilica in Rome, November 9, 2017 (Homily)

St. John Lateran Basilica

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois 

Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; Psalm 46:1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17; John 2:13-22

“You are God’s building.” (1 Cor 3:9c)

On my list of sacred spaces is St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. In the middle of one of the busiest streets in the world, Fifth Avenue, is an oasis of quiet and a place of prayer. Anyone who spends time there knows that there is always a mix of people in the cathedral. For example, there are tourists on a walking tour of NYC taking pictures inside the magnificent structure. A homeless person is sitting in a pew, sleeping off the exhaustion of the day’s journey. Other people are sitting or kneeling in silent prayer before God. Whatever the person’s reasons for walking into that church, I have never known anyone who hasn’t considered it sacred space. In the hustle and bustle of New York City, a house of worship stands as a sentry, reminding all of the need of sacred space wherein the pilgrim can meet God.

Today’s feast is the celebration of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. Technically, it is the Pope’s Cathedral as the Bishop of Rome. It is believed to have been built by the Emperor Constantine. Since the 12th century, it has been celebrated throughout the world as the sign of unity of the Catholic Church. There are two other important aspects to this feast. First, it is a reminder that the Church is not a building at all but the living, breathing, Body of Christ. And while we believe that the Church is not a building, still our sacred spaces are important. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a good example of these two aspects coming together, so, too, every parish and church building.

In the second reading for this feast, St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they “... are God’s building.” Remember that the early Church worshipped in homes and sometimes in secret places. Church buildings were a later addition to Christianity. St. Paul believed that the baptized made up the “Body of Christ” with Christ himself as the head of the body. Here are some thoughts from St. Caesarius of Arles on this subject: “And if we think carefully about the meaning of our salvation, we shall realize that we are indeed living and true temples of God. God does not dwell only in structures fashioned by human hands, in homes of wood and stone, but rather He dwells principally in the soul made according to His own image and fashioned by His own hand. Therefore, the apostle Paul says: The temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.”

Your parish is not a building or a series of buildings. Its mailing address is yours and every other parishioner’s address. If your parish community meets on a beach or in the middle of a highway for Mass, you are your parish. The church building is a symbol of the entire parish community and a place for you as a parish to gather. Like St. Patrick’s in New York City, your parish church building is a symbol of the faith of the community that gathers within its doors. The building stands through cultural shifts and varying priorities, reminding the people that the faith remains the same.

The paradox of this feast is that while it is true that the people are the Church, our buildings are important to us. The milestones of family life often take place within church buildings. Each of us remembers weddings, baptisms, first communions, and funerals in our churches. In them, we have laughed, cried, prayed, been taken to the heights of happiness, and have approached God in the depths of despair.

In a world in which the human person is always wired through cell phones and other technology, a sacred, quiet space is essential. Beautiful sacred space is a refuge for us when we need to leave the world behind, even if only for a few minutes. Finding places of prayer and quiet is necessary in life. Years back, when I was the parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington, Filene’s Department Store (today’s Macy’s) had opened. I reflected then, as now, that just a few feet away from that temple to consumerism stands the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and within that church structure is the Blessed Sacrament. The cathedral is an oasis of quiet in the midst of the noise of commerce. It is the presence of Christ, as found in the Most Holy Eucharist, which makes that space, and every Catholic church, holy. In each and every church, we can be one with Christ in silent prayer.

You are your parish. Your church building, while a sacred building, is a symbol of your faith as parishioners who make up your parish. Yet that building is holy, and beckons you to enter its doors to celebrate the sacraments and be one with Christ.

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