9 Nov 2015
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
We use all sorts of things to remind ourselves: Post-It notes in bright colors; notes stuck on our desk, on the refrigerator, or in our checkbook; writing a note on the palm of our hand. We make those reminders big and we put them where we can’t miss them. And that’s a reason why we have this feast today: the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome.
The Basilica (or any church building) is a big reminder to us of what we’re meant to be. It’s as St Paul says: We are “God’s building,” the “temple of God.” Right in our own human body, right in our human soul . . . God dwells . . . just like in the church building, the “house of God.”
You know, we Catholics don’t look at church buildings just as another place to gather together—even if it is for worship. The building itself means much more than that. The church building is a visual reminder of what we’re meant to be as children of God. What we could say about the church building, we could say equally about the faithful disciple—they’re both temples of God.
As you walk up to the Lateran Basilica, you see it’s built on a firm foundation, and its walls are massive—it wouldn’t crumble very easily. Just like us when our life is built upon faith in Christ. And as you enter the enormous doors, you’re immediately struck by the vast openness of the space. Not unlike the openness of heart and mind the Lord asks us to have.
It’s a beautiful place; there’s artwork everywhere: the floors, the ceilings, the walls. And that’s like the heart of us disciples: we treasure what is good, true, and beautiful. We keep those things close to our heart. In the Basilica, there’s the chair where the pope sits—he alone sits there. And that’s like us—in our minds, we know that there are others more knowledgeable, who have the responsibility to care for us and watch over us. And we let them occupy that place of authority in our lives; we don’t try to take it ourselves.
As you go stroll along the wide aisles of the Basilicas, there are chapels here and there, dedicated to this Saint or that Saint. Just like us, who have areas of our hearts where we hold certain devotions and saints and traditions in high regard. Of course, at the heart of the Basilica is the altar and the Eucharist. It’s very strong and very tall. Even with all the rest that’s going on in the church building, the whole building is focused on the altar. Just like us disciples: we have a lot going on in our lives, but everything we do, everything we are is rooted in the Eucharist. Christ has a central place in our hearts.
And, lastly, the Basilica is immaculately clean. Jesus gets out his whip to cleanse the Temple in Jerusalem—literally and figuratively. The cleanliness of the church building is a reminder of the cleanliness we aspire to have in our souls.
You know, many people get down on Catholics because we spend money, time, and energy on our church buildings. Of course, they don’t realize that these aren’t just buildings where we get together to worship; they’re visual reminders of who and what we’re meant to be as Christ’s disciples. They’re like a big Post-It note that says: keep Christ as the center, appreciate the beautiful, be strong and firm, let the breath of the Holy Spirit move within the openness of your heart, respect authority, have a clean heart, and be a warm and stable place of welcome and hospitality in the world.
We celebrate, today, a church building in Rome, a temple of God. We also celebrate what they remind us of . . . that we ourselves are made to be temples of the Holy Spirit. May we respect our church buildings, and so come to respect ourselves.