The Dedication of St. John Lateran
Gospel John 2:13-22
Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money-changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money-changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews said,
“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking about the temple of his Body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.
The feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica is a truly unique celebration. What is specifically unique about this feast day is that we are celebrating a building, a building that is in a city very far away from us. In the entire liturgical year this is the only celebration of a physical building. This celebration is so important that it actually supersedes a Sunday Mass. Normally, when a feast day coincides with a Sunday, the Sunday is more important and we would use that Sunday’s prayers. However, some feasts can supersede a Sunday, such as the feast of St. John Lateran, and so we use its prayers. This means that the Church finds the feast day of a building to be more important than a Sunday celebration.
This feast day points to the importance of the physical structure of a church. Now, the Basilica in Rome, called St. John Lateran, is actually the Cathedral Church of Rome. We should not confuse it with St. Peter’s Basilica, which is the Church that we usually see on television. St. John’s Lateran where Pope Francis, as the Bishop of Rome, has his Bishop’s seat, called a “cathedra.” That Church building and its dedication calls to mind the importance of every church building in the entire catholic faith, including your own parish church building.
We need to ask ourselves, “Why would we celebrate physical building?” Perhaps we can understand why we would celebrate a Saint, or why we would celebrate the Blessed Virgin, and certainly why we would celebrate the different mysteries of the Lord’s life; But why a building?
The answer begins with the idea that, “God is everywhere.” We’ve learned this ever since we were little children. “God is EVERYEHERE.” But we are “somewhere.” We have a place. All the scriptures testify that God has always wanted us to know that he is in our midst. Even though God is everywhere He does not want us to think that He is some sort of ephemeral Being out there. The Old Testament as well as the New Testament declares that God is in our midst. As the book of Deuteronomy says, “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God is to us?” (Deut 4:7)
God’s desire to be ‘in our midst’ can be seen on Mount Horeb, where God met Moses face to face to give him the Ten Commandments. The God who is everywhere made that specific place, the mountain top, the place of contact with Moses. That mountain became holy, so much so that the people would not touch the mountain. We know that Moses brought the Ten Commandments down the mountain, and the commandments accompanied the Israelite people throughout the desert for 40 years inside The Ark of the Covenant. But did you know that inside the Bible there are specific architecture measurements for the design for the Ark of the Covenant? (Deut 6:14-15) This means that architecture is a part of scripture revelation.
The Ark of the Covenant was also put inside a tent, a literal tent; one that could be set up and taken down and moved as the Israelite’s moved throughout the desert for 40 years. Did you know that, that tent had specific architectural instructions including the materials and the dimensions to be used inside scripture? (Exodus 26) Again architecture is a part of scriptural revelation. That tent followed the people to make it clear that, even though God is everywhere, He wants us to know that he is in our midst. We are physical beings. We are always somewhere. Therefore the God who is everywhere wants us to know that he is in our midst.
After the Israelite’s crossed the Jordan and established Jerusalem they were able to build a temple. This temple in Jerusalem is considered the dwelling place of the Most High, as Psalm 46 says, “The city of God [is] the holy dwelling of the Most High. God is in its midst.” Now that dwelling place of the Most High had a square in it called the Holy of Holies where the highest priest would go each year. This is a place where, once again, someone would meet the living God. Guess what: that temple, too, has specific architectural plans inside scriptures (1 Kings 5-8). Architecture is a part of scriptural revelation.
God, even though He is everywhere ,wants us to know that he is always in our Midst. As Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” (Mathew 18:20) Where we are, God is with us. As a matter of fact that phrase, “God is with us” is the name given to Jesus by the angel, “Emanuel.” (Matt 1:23) Emanuel is a Hebrew word literally translated, “God is with us.” Now this God who is everywhere was also encountered at specific places: the mountain, the tent and the temple, to name a few. He met Moses on the mountain, accompanied Israel in the desert in the tent and also was in the temple. In the same way, this God who is everywhere, is still with us today inside our parish churches. Just as we celebrate St. John Lateran’s, a physical place, so we celebrate our physical church HERE.
Let me ask you, what is the most important spot in the Church during Mass? Most of us would point to the Tabernacle because of its prominence and because we know who resides inside the Tabernacle: the Body of Jesus Christ. However, the actual truth of the matter is that the most important spot during Mass is the altar. Consider it this way, there would be no Eucharist in the tabernacle if we never celebrated Mass on the altar.
Jesus Christ Himself went to another mountain. As Moses went up Mount Horeb to receive the Ten Commandments Jesus went up the mountain of Golgotha. On top of that mountain He sacrificed Himself and He destroyed death and restored life. Again, in a PHYSICAL PLACE in what we call the Holy Land because that is where Jesus physically walked, there was the spot of which the blood of our savior touched the ground. Now that blood is given to us in the Eucharist and it touches this ground as well. That altar is the physical place where Christ sacrifice happens.
It is important for us to recognize as Catholic Christians that what we believe at Mass is not the reenactment of a distant event. Rather we believe that it is actually the experience of the same event of Jesus Christ on Golgotha. Just as Mary and John were at the foot of the cross in Golgotha, so we are at the foot of the cross at this altar. This altar is touched by the blood of Christ. It is the spot is the place where Jesus Christ is sacrificed.
This is why the church building is so important for us. You see whenever Jesus Christ became man the God who is everywhere actually became physical in the person of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, because Jesus Christ gave us His body and blood in the Eucharist he now has a PHYSICAL place in our midst as well. A church building is the House of God! In Jesus Christ, the church building is the physical place of the Most High.
Our church buildings are the places where we have been baptized for the forgiveness of sins, where we are forgiven in the sacrament of confession, where we receive our first communion. They are the place where we are united in Holy Communion and where couples are united in matrimony. The parish Church is Holy ground. Just as Jesus said to Moses at the burning bush; “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground,” (Exodus 3:5) we should be able to say the same thing of our parish church: “This is Holy Ground.” Quite frankly this is why Catholics don’t have weddings outside. Yes, God is everywhere but in Jesus Christ, He has a place. And in this place is in the parish Church where God is literally in our midst.
It is interesting to note Jesus’ jealousy for the temple in the Gospel of John. He was so angry that the temple was abused. He violently drove out the money changers and said, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” What is interesting in this Gospel passage is that Jesus seamlessly went from talking about a physical building, the temple, to talking about his physical body. In other words he made a connection between the temple and his body. The same connection applies to your parish church as well. Your parish church represents the body of Christ that is your parish family. Your church is the place where God is in your midst, where you receive the Eucharistic body of Christ, and where you are made into one body in Christ. As St. Paul says, “You too are the true living stones of the Church built up as an edifice in the person of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)
Your parish church is a place of sanctity. It is the place of “God in your midst: Emanuel.” Jesus was zealous for his Father’s house. (John 2:17) Be zealous for your house too! Remember, architecture is a part of scriptural revelation. Be proud of your parish building. It is your church, it is your house. In that spot you meet the God who is everywhere. In that spot, the God who is everywhere, is physically in your midst both in the Eucharist and in people gathered in his name.