THURSDAY HOMILY FOR 31ST WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A (Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica)
THEME: Renew The Western Wall, Jerusalem
Gospel – John 2:13-22
RENEW! If you are part of the Archdiocese of Chicago, you are very familiar with this word. It engenders a sense of hope and anticipation and, dare I say, even a bit of fear and nervousness. This process involves clustering of neighboring parishes into groups in order to discern how best to maximize limited resources amid the dwindling number of clergy. And yes it means the closing of many churches and the merging of others into one new parish entity. It is, at times, a very painful process as we are called to move forward in our faith and let go of some generations-long traditions and physical spaces.
We celebrate today the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome. Dedicated in 324 AD, the Basilica is the cathedral of Rome, the official seat of the Bishop of Rome and the mother of all churches throughout the world. It is the first public building granted to Christians as a worship site by Constantine. It is quite unusual that we have a feast day honoring an object, as opposed to a person. I can only think of one other – Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.
Today’s Gospel reflects on another religious object – the Temple in Jerusalem. It was the center of Jewish life at the time of Jesus; it was a place to gather and worship for all major feasts and celebrations. The very life of a Jew revolved around this magnificent house of prayer and sacrifice. From birth to coming of age to remembrance of Passover to celebrations of harvest and Days of Atonement, it drew the people together as one and reminded them of God’s constant love and protection. Even today, while the Temple no longer exists, people still gather at the Western Wall, the base of the Temple Mount, to offer prayers both silent and written. The Temple is gone; the Jewish faith remains!
St. John Lateran Basilica stands today as a symbol of the living Church, the Christian community. It is reminder that our faith is universal and our Church exists across time and in all places. It stands as our spiritual home, a place where our spiritual family gathers to worship, to pray, to partake in the sacraments and to encounter the love of God.
And for us, while many things change, while the church we grew up in either physically closes or merges into a new parish, one key element remains constant! We may start celebrating sacraments in a new space! We may be greeting a new pastor and a new pastoral staff! Maybe the clergy uses a different chalice at Mass or he preaches in a style we are not used to. Maybe many of the faces at church are different and the Mass times have changed. But our faith remains the same. We are still Christian! We are still Catholic! Jesus is still our Saviour and the Son of God! No matter where it is celebrated, the Eucharist is still the Eucharist! Yes, the incidentals are important and comforting but they are still just incidentals! Our faith remains! What draws us together for Eucharist is the same!
Consider the history of St. John Lateran. Consider all the wars and fires and social upheaval that it has witnessed. And it has not only witnessed but SURVIVED! Perhaps that is our lesson for today- we will survive, the Church will survive, our faith will survive. This is a difficult time we live in, a time of fear and loss and separation. But God has not abandoned us. In fact, He reminds us daily that each one of us is a Temple of God and the Spirit dwells within us.
Great Spirit, keep my faith strong; help me to walk in prayer and in faith!