The Anniversary of the Dedication of the Saint John Lateran Cathedral

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of the Saint John Lateran Cathedral in Rome. That seems a little obscure to us, I know, but it’s an important feast for the Church because it is a celebration of Church and a reflection on what Church is. The Lateran Cathedral is the cathedral church for the Diocese of Rome. As bishop of the diocese, the Lateran Cathedral is the pope’s church. Because of that, Saint John Lateran is considered to be the mother church of the Catholic faithful. So it’s an important church, and it gives us cause to celebrate the Church as a whole, so this feast is celebrated throughout the world, and when it falls on Sunday, it takes the place of the Ordinary Time Sunday. So that’s why we’re celebrating the Dedication of Saint John Lateran today.

So let’s take a look at what Church (big “C”) is. The Church is a reality that is at the same time concrete and experiential and heavenly and eternal. The concrete structures of it are the nuts and bolts that make it work. The building itself, the parish staff, the rubrics of liturgy and the holy books, as well as teachings and dogma and sacraments – all of these are things we can touch, or learn or work with. But there is another layer, one more experiential. These include the people as a whole, on the way to holiness; the Word at work in believers; the effects of grace mediated through the sacraments; the Gospel lived out day by day and the love of God shown through Charity. And in yet another layer, the Church is not just here on earth. It’s in heaven, celebrated among the Communion of Saints and sung by the choirs of angels. And finally it is eternal, not just limited to our own puny ideas of time and space, but all wrapped up in the Mind of God who is ever-present, all-powerful and all-knowing. The Church is an incredible reality that has been pondered by people much more saintly and learned than I, and a reality that will be advanced and celebrated for ages yet to come.

The Scriptures today are a beautiful meditation on Church. The gospel is a little jarring, to be honest. Jesus has this famous dust-up with the temple merchants and officials. A lot of people find this disturbing, because it jars their view of Jesus as a peaceful man. For the record, I don’t think Jesus was about peace the way we think of peace. He was definitely more about zeal for the truth, for justice, and for proper worship of God, all of which is in play here. Those merchants were doing a necessary task, honestly. People needed to pay the temple tax, and they needed the proper coinage to do it, so there had to be money changers. People needed to make sacrifice, and they needed unblemished animals for it, so there had to be people selling animals. What didn’t need to happen was for these people to be taking advantage of the poor, and charging more than they should have. That was dishonest and unjust and Jesus was sick of it.

But even more than that, this whole dishonest structure was a view of Church that Jesus was saying was completely unnecessary now. The kingdom of God is at hand, we’ve been hearing that in the readings for months now, and so this unjust and corrupt view of Church needed to come to an end. So in his zeal for the real house of God, Jesus turns the old stuff upside-down. That’s what’s going on here. Saint Paul underscores the similar notion to the people of Corinth in today’s first reading. What is the Church? He says, “YOU are God’s building!” He and the Apostles have laid the foundation, and we are building it up, becoming a Temple of the Holy Spirit. There is an entirely new view of Church going on here, and it’s one that we should celebrate and have zeal for.

So today we celebrate Church; we peel back the Church’s many layers, touching and learning the concrete, living the experiential, asking for the intercession of the heavenly, and yearning to be caught up in the eternal. The Church is our Mother who has given us birth in the Spirit and who nurtures us toward eternal life. The river of God’s life flows forth from the Church to baptize and sanctify the whole world unto the One who created it all. The Church has its foundation in Christ, who also raises it up to eternity. Blessed are all those who find their life in its sanctuary.

Saturday of the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“The love of money is the root of all evil.” “Money can’t buy happiness.” We have all sorts of proverbs that aim to keep us at right relationship not just with our financial resources, but really with all the many gifts that we have. Today’s Liturgy of the Word gives us some humble pointers too on this important issue.

St. Paul, in thanking his friends in Philippi for their generous support of his ministry, tells them: “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” His gratitude isn’t so much that their gift to him filled him with plenty, but instead that their gift was a testament to their faith, and their love for the Gospel he preached to them. He was able to use that gift to further his ministry elsewhere, making Christ known to others who longed to hear of him.

Jesus today speaks to the Pharisees, who, as the Gospel today tells us, “loved money.” He tells them that their love of money was not going to lead them to God. Instead, it leads them to dishonest transactions with dishonest people. Just as a servant cannot serve two masters, so they could not expect to serve both God and mammon, the so-called god of material wealth and greed.

We live in times where the love of money has led us to considerable evil. Greed and the desire for instant gratification has led people to be overspent and overextended. Major corporations, greedy for more wealth, playing off the misguided desires of so many people, have defaulted, and others have grown rich at the expense of the poor. Major breaches in retail security have cost millions of dollars due to hacking of financial information. In these days, it may be well for us to hear that we cannot serve both God and mammon. It may be well for us to come to the conclusion that we can live in both abundance and need. And it’s never a bad time to hear that we need to make God our only God, yet again.

All Saints & All Souls

Readings: All Saints | All Souls

“Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.”

“The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.”

This weekend we celebrate two closely-related feasts: The Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, which we commonly call All Souls Day. I say they are closely-related feasts because they show the journey we are on to our salvation. We know that we are not at home in this world: our true citizenship is in heaven, and we are but travellers through this world, hoping to come at last to the Kingdom of Heaven. The people that we know for sure are in heaven are saints, and so it is our quest in this world to become saints. Our goal is to come to perfection and get caught up in the life of God, so that we can live forever with him one day.

The Solemnity of All Saints celebrates all those men and women who have lived heroic lives and have attained the goal of perfection in holiness and complete unity with God. We know they are in heaven either because they died a martyr’s death, giving their lives for Christ and pouring out their blood just like he did, or we know of miracles that have been attributed to their intercession that occurred after their death, indicating they are with God in heaven. These saints may already be canonized saints, or perhaps they are people we don’t even know about who have attained that perfection. It is conceivable that we don’t know every saint, because ultimately God knows whether one has attained perfection or not. All Saints Day allows us to celebrate all those saints we don’t know about in addition to the ones we do know.

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or All Souls Day, is an opportunity to pray for all those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, as well as those whose faith God alone knows. On this day, we especially pray for those who have not attained full perfection in this life, either because of venial sins or attachment to mortal sins, and we endeavor to help them through prayer and through the Sacrifice of the Mass. This is what Purgatory is about, and far from being a punishment, Purgatory is understood to be a gift through which a soul is cleansed through the sanctifying action of our Lord so that they can fully enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

As I said, these feasts are closely related, and during their observance we as a church remember three ranks of saints. There are the saints associated with the Church Triumphant, and these would be the saints in heaven, those who have overcome the power of the evil one and have been perfectly united with God. There are the saints associated with the Church Suffering, those who are in purgatory and especially those who have no one to pray for them, for whom we pray that our Lord would give them the salvation and rest they long for. And there are the rest of us, the saints associated with the Church Militant, including you and me, who are doing our best to overcome evil in this world, and to unite ourselves with our God so that we may come to everlasting life.

What we really celebrate in these days is the joy of salvation. God made us all for himself, and he wills that every single one of us would be saved. He will not rest until all of this is made right, and all have had a chance to enter into eternal life. This journey of salvation, the quest to become saints, is what our faith life is all about. The goal is not so much to “graduate” from faith formation by receiving all the sacraments. The goal is not to jump through hoops and check off the requirements of the Church. The goal is to become saints, because as far as we know, there are only saints in the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of Heaven is where we long to take our rest.

This journey of salvation is wonderfully expressed in one of my favorite hymns, “For All the Saints.” Here is one of the verses:

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!