Monday, 9 November 2015

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica -- 9 November

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

The gospel of St John differs from Matthew, Mark and Luke in placing the cleansing of the Temple at the beginning rather than at the end of the public ministry of Jesus. For the synoptic gospels it is the last straw for his enemies, provoking his arrest and trial. For John it is the opening shot in his campaign, announcing the programme of Jesus' whole ministry. It declares, in effect, that the place of God's presence and the means of access to God is now Jesus himself and no longer the Temple in Jerusalem.

This overture to his ministry is also a key to reading John's gospel as a whole. The prophecies about Jerusalem, about the holy mountain on which God has chosen to dwell, about the Temple and the divine glory that resides there: all that is said about these things in the Old Testament is transferred to Jesus and fulfilled in what happens to him, specifically in what happens to his body. The gospel is organised around the great feasts of the Jewish liturgical year, Passover, Tabernacles, and Dedication, whose meaning is consummated in the presence, teaching, sacrifice and saving work of Jesus.

Our feasts celebrating the dedication of churches are not in the first place about the physical buildings. It is good to have them, especially to have extraordinary buildings like the Lateran Basilica whose dedication we celebrate today. But the function of the buildings and their feasts is to serve the true 'temple of God', the 'body of Christ', the 'dwelling place of God' that the disciples of Jesus have become, the community of believers, the Church rather than the church.

The life of that temple and body is prayer, and the sabbath rest, with the sacrifice of Jesus at its heart, and the covenant sealed in his blood and represented each day in the celebration of the Eucharist.

The spiritual life of the people of God is the only 'commerce' worthy of this temple that we are, the exchange and relating whereby God abides with us and we receive Him in faith, hope and love.

And it is 'for all people', a universalism already announced in Isaiah and others of the prophets. This presence of God in Jesus Christ is not sectarian or exclusive but is for all. It is ecumenical and catholic, a call going out to the whole world to come and share in the life that is celebrated in these great buildings. This is particularly clear in celebrating today's feast of the Lateran, the Pope's cathedral, honoured as the mother church of all churches in the world.

You will find here another homily for this feast

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