HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE DEDICATION OF THE LATERAN BASILICA.
THEME: GOD’S TEMPLE IS HOLY!
BY: Benedict Agbo (Rev Fr)
* Ezek 47: 1 – 12, 1 Cor 3: 9 – 17, Jn 2: 13 – 22.
I am bothered about the relevance of the Church to the present day society. As people flock daily to our Churches, what actually takes place in their lives spiritually, intellectually, financially, emotionally and physically? Is their relationship with God improving? Is their educational awareness growing? Is their business /financial condition improving? Is their relationship with people improving? Is their health condition better? Is their overall well being /happiness improving? Is the Church really bettering the spiritual and physical condition of the society or opposite?
Yes, although religion is not business, as my bishop, Most Rev Godfrey Onah will often say, it is also not ‘owom’ – liability /failure. We may not necessarily have financial prosperity when we worship God, but we will have holistic prosperity. He wants us to ‘increase, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it (succeed in it)’, Gen 1 : 28.
*Christ is the living water spoken of in today’s 1st reading. He flows through his Church into the desert (Arabah) or society and wherever this water flows, every living creature which swarms will live.* He came that we may have life and have it abundantly, Jn 10 : 10. His mission is predominantly a healing ministry, Lk 4 :18. He heals through teaching, education, deliverance, empowerment, exhortation, etc. *When the Word of God permeates a society that society becomes holy. That society can now produce good leaders. If not, criminals continue to pose as Christians to rule our society and get the vote of Christians as is happening in many parts of the world today.*
The greatest provocation that Jesus ever had, as recorded in today’s gospel, that made him go a little violent, so to speak, was to see the house of God turned into a business center. Can somebody go to cities like Lagos and see what is happening on Sundays in our Churches and then compare that to the scenario in today’s gospel. There are places that do offertory collection 8 times within one Sunday mass after rushing through the homily and the Eucharistic prayers. Jesus is still crying: ‘Take these things away for you will not make my house a house of trade but of prayer’. The Catholic bishops of Nigeria have ruled that we have not more than once in a month project Sunday /special fund raising and not more than once in a year baarzar Sunday. Prudence is the watchword here to make sure that the house of God remains a spiritual house not a business center.
What we do with both the physical and spiritual temple of God nowadays is simply outrageous; As many ladies now trade with their bodies in immorality, some men initiate themselves into demonic cults with inscriptions put on their bodies converting them into demonic temples that will be invincible to bullets. *This defensive talisman popularly called ‘Odeshi’ in Igbo has become rampant especially in Igbo land since after the Fulani herdsmen terrorism hit places like Nimbo and Akwuke in Enugu State*. I felt a very big pity for a pious woman who came to me after mass wailing like a child because her husband (a member of the vigilante) has insisted inspite of her warnings in performing the cultic rituals of the Odeshi spiritual fortification. Today’s 2nd reading warns us emphatically that God’s temple is holy and that temple you are.
Jesus complains in today’s gospel about how we desacred God’s temple with undue emphasis on fund drives at the expense of spirituality. The truth is that many priests now trade in the house of God. They rush the Word of God every Sunday and then spend ample time after communion haunting for money. *Many people get so irritated when donations and special offerings are done every blessed Sunday and every wedding/ thanksgiving of rich men. It is not bad to make donations for the work of God but you see, money carries its own ‘spirit’ and has an uncanny way of making the house of God look like a market place.* Minimizing fund drives to once in a month may be the ideal in our current circumstances where many Parishes are still laden with so many developmental projects.
Jesus is still giving us a challenge today : ‘Destroy this temple and I will build it up in 3 days’. The high priests have continued to fail to understand the import of this – that the spirituality of the Church is always at stake when the care for its physical structures hamper the spiritual. *Free will donation, for instance is something that is spiritual especially when it is done in secret, but before we can build our Christians to come to that level of realization it requires a lot of teaching and spiritual direction. The style we use in this offering can make a lot of spiritual difference. When we get too ostentatious (showcasing those around so so and so range as special donors… etc) we sometimes miss the spirituality of the offering.* God’s temple is holy and the worship we do there must be in the spirit; the music we play there must be spiritual. The preaching we release there must be spiritually uplifting. We must avoid everything that distracts this spiritual sensibility so that the water that flows from the sanctuary and goes down into the Arabah (the world) will make everything become fresh.
As we celebrate today the dedication of the Lateran Basilica – the mother Church of Rome where 5 ecumenical councils were held, we ask for the grace to make our Churches remain sources of the life giving water and our individual bodies to remain temples of the Holy Spirit.
May God bless you today!
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