November 8, 2014

Homily for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Today we celebrate the dedication of the oldest Church in the West, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, the Pope’s cathedral. This provides us also the opportunity to celebrate our catholic identity.

The word “Catholic” is most often distinguished from “Orthodox” and “Protestant,” referring to “Roman” Catholics as opposed, for example, to “English Catholics” (Anglicans), or the “Polish National Catholic Church,” etc. “Big C Catholics,” the blog on which this homily is being published, refers to especially faithful members of the “Roman” Catholic Church.

Every Sunday in the Nicene Creed we profess our faith in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Notice that “catholic” here is not capitalized. That is because the Creed as we know it was originally composed in 325 AD and revised in 381 AD, long before there was even such a thing as Orthodox or Protestant. The word “catholic” comes from two Greek elements meaning “according to the whole,” i.e. “universal.” Everywhere in the world, Christians held the same beliefs. The only ones excluded were those heretics whose errors led to the composition of the Creed in the first place.

That’s enough technical information for one day. Now let’s take a look at the Scriptures.

Jesus was seriously grieved to see all the merchants in the temple precincts. He drove them out and told them, presumably not in a gentle tone, to stop turning his Father’s house into a marketplace. The house in this case was a physical building, the Temple of Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place among his people.

Two or three years later, at the Last Supper, again in John’s Gospel, Jesus uses a similar expression in a very different context. Comforting his disciples, he says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled... In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” This is no physical house, not the Temple of Jerusalem, but the broadest possible expression of where God resides.

St. Paul writes that we are God’s building, “the temple of God in which the Spirit dwells.”

With each quotation we draw closer to the notion of Church as the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Assembly of Believers—the “universal Church” that once we were, and that we hope one day to be again.

The reading from Ezekiel uses the image of the stream flowing out from the temple, becoming a river and bringing life wherever it flows. I would like to apply this to ourselves.

Wherever we go, we are Church. Wherever we are, we can bring life. Just imagine the world, in so many ways a desert place, being watered by our compassion, our works of charity, justice and peace, our faith, hope and love, freely and universally shared.

Two of the formulas for dismissal at the end of Mass are particularly eloquent in this context. “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” and “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

Take your pick.

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