The Dedication of the Latern Basilica, November 9, 2014
Our celebration today has important historical roots. This is the anniversary of the Pope’s cathedral being dedicated, back in the 4th Century. This Church is not St peter’s on the Vatican hill, but rather St John located on the Lateran lands, which Constantine himself gave to the Church.
The Pope’s Cathedra, or chair is located in this enormous basilica, and the adjoining residence was the home of the popes for 1,000 years. This feast calls to mind the Bishop of Rome’s spiritual authority which unites us together in the Catholic world.
Our readings today remind us that apart from the physical structures we build to express our faithin Jesus Christ, we should be conscious of the more important reality, the spiritual temple that is the person of Jesus Christ himself, and his bride the Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ and his bride in fact form one body, which we call his mystical Body. Even we ourselves as individual believers, are temples of the living God as Paul repeats at three moments in today’s section of the letter to the Corinthians. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you?
For many people, the moment of Christ’s cleansing of the temple is unusual. It seems out of character for the gentle Saviour to be so angry. For the evangelist St John, this event was so significant that he placed this episode at the beginning of his gospel. In other words, the cleansing of the temple tells us something we need to know at the beginning of the story. By his actions, Jesus showed respect for the holiness of the site, and the need to correct excessive commercialism in his Father’s house. But what we really need to reflect on are his prophetic words: Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. In these words he predicted his bodily resurrection; but he also clarified that his own physical body would replace the historic structure at the very centre of Judaism. He is the new temple, replacing the one where animal sacrifices were held daily.
All of this is actually predicted in Scripture: in particular, the reading from Ezekiel describes how there would one day be rivers of God’s grace and life flowing in ever increasing abundance, in the great Temple that would be a sign of God’s presence for the entire nations of the world. The temple to come, as described in different Old Testament texts, is the eschatological temple: that means it will be the final and definitive temple, of the final period of time. As Christians we understand Ezekiel’s description of the flowing waters to refer to the cleansing waters of baptism. This sacrament regenerates us; it restores and heals our wounded nature; it connects us into a continuous, ever flowing source of divine life and energy, and it makes us members of the Body of Christ, the very source of our blessings. At the moment of his death, the water that flowed from Jesus’ heart represented the cleansing waters of baptism. His body, lying in death, became the source of life for the new temple, of which you are I are all an essential part.
So what do we have to do, to celebrate this feast of the Dedication well? I think we have to think of our part in this great structure, which is the temple of God. In some sense, we are all builders of this spiritual edifice. The old temple was continually under construction; and so it is with the new temple. God is the one doing the building, but he uses us and our gifts. If we are God’s collaborators, God’s builders, then we have to build with care. St Paul says today Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Lord help us see what we can do to build up your holy temple on earth, which is the Church of your son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Make us generous workers with him always!