Friday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time: Christian Unity

Today’s readings (Mass for the school children)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls his Apostles.  These are the men who will be closest to him and will follow after him throughout his ministry on earth.  Even though these men weren’t the most popular people in the area, even though they weren’t wealthy, even though they may not even have been the smartest, he called them to do something very special.  During the time they followed him, they learned from Jesus how to live the Gospel, how to bring God’s love to others.  After Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven, it was up to them, then, to continue to bring that Gospel message to every person on earth.  These men became the Church.

This week is the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity.  During this week we remember that Christ came to found one and only one Church – Jesus didn’t send the apostles out with different messages, it was just one message and just one Gospel, so just one Church.  But sadly, over time, people have messed that up through our sin and pride.  Now there are many kinds of Churches.  There are Catholics and Methodists and Episcopalians and so many more.  You may have friends or family members who are not Catholic, but Christians of other denominations like this.  These are all good people, all our brothers and sisters, but Jesus never meant for us to be apart.

The good news that we celebrate this week is that some of that is changing.  Slowly, but surely.  Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists are beginning to come to agreement on an essential teaching about how we are saved.  Orthodox and Catholics are beginning to talk about Eucharist and the role of the pope.  Even Catholics and Evangelicals are coming together in many ways to promote the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.

We still have a long way to go, but these steps are signs of progress.  We focus on what we all believe in: a loving God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the hope of eternal life because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit, our common Baptism and the promise of everlasting life in heaven.  From these we can begin our prayer for unity, that, as Jesus always intended, we may all be one.  Just as he called those Twelve Apostles, he now calls us to reach out to those who are not one with us and to tell them how much God loves them.  And he calls us always to pray that we would be one Church, one Body in Christ.

Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Cathedral of St. John Lateran in Rome. Most people think of St. Peter’s Basilica as the pope’s church, but that’s not true. As the Bishop of Rome, his Cathedral Church is the Lateran Cathedral, once dedicated to our Savior, but now named for St. John the Baptist. This site has served as the Cathedral church for the pope ever since the first structure was built in the late 300s. It served until the pope was moved to Avignon, and upon returning, it was found to have been destroyed. The present structure was commissioned in the 1600s and is one of the most massive churches in Rome. Because it is the parish church of the pope, it is in some ways considered to be the parish church for all Catholics. Today we celebrate the feast of its dedication on November 9, 324 by Pope St. Sylvester I.

The disagreement between Jesus and the Jews in the Gospel reading today showed what was really a difference of opinion on what Church is.  The many services that were being offered outside the Temple were required for the sacrifice, so they supported the worship that went on there.  In a sense then, they were legitimate enterprises.  But Jesus came to bring about Church in a whole new way.  His uncharacteristically violent reaction was frustration that those who should know better did not see what God really wanted in worship.  He didn’t want birds or animals, he wanted people’s hearts so that he could re-create them anew.

Any feast like this is an opportunity for us to take a step back and look at this thing we call Church. The misunderstanding in the Gospel between Jesus and the Jews tells us that we cannot view Church as just a building. The reality of Church is brought to great perfection in the Body of Christ, and we see that because of Christ, the Church is a living, breathing thing that takes us in and out of time and space to be the body we were created to be. 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.

The Dedication of Saint John Lateran

Today’s readings

I’m often amazed by the flurry of activity that goes on around this place.  I’d only been here a couple of months, and I became convinced that if I strolled over to church at three in the morning, I’d see six or seven cars in the parking lot and a meeting going on somewhere.  In a typical day here, there are a handful of meetings, a full day of classes in the school, several people stopping by the parish office to schedule Masses, or pick up baptismal certificates, or coming for appointments with us priests or other staff people.  We have people come in for financial and other assistance, perhaps to plan a funeral for a loved one, or pick up lesson plans and supplies for a religious education class.  People come in for daily Mass, or to decorate the church, or come for ministry training.  And all these things have to be supported by people cleaning the church or watering plants, staff members repairing broken furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or changing light bulbs.  We have around fifty staff members involved in every kind of ministry and function here, as well as countless volunteers who support the work of the church in so many ways.

Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the St. John Lateran basilica in Rome.  That might seem like a strange feast to celebrate, since few of us have probably ever been there.  But St. John Lateran is a very important church for us Catholics.  It is the “mother church” of all Catholics around the world.  It is the Pope’s parish church, the cathedral of Rome. It’s an enormous basilica built over three hundred years ago on the site of a former church built in the fourth century.  Within the building are representations of the popes going all the way back to Peter.  Over time the churches on this site have been subject to fire, earthquakes and war, and have had to be rebuilt several times.  But a church has always been there. It is a visual reminder, inside and out, of our connection to our tradition and the fact that the Church has survived a lot over the centuries–from both within and without. The building attracts many tourists.  They can’t help but admire this grand edifice, much like the Jews of Jesus’ time strolled the Temple precincts and admired its splendor.

While it is a solid structure, and probably needs constant upkeep, it is a reminder of another edifice, the real Temple Jesus laid the foundation for and Paul and subsequent preachers carefully built upon, and that temple is God’s people.  This structure also requires constant upkeep, that’s what we are about in our celebration today, remembering who we are and “tending to the Temple.”

This church that is ourselves, this temple of the Holy Spirit that we are, needs constant upkeep and maintenance – just like this building where we worship, and just like old St. John Lateran.  Because we often fall into the disrepair of sin or the neglect that is spiritual laziness.  And often the repairs can seem daunting.  But they are certainly possible because of the love of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that spirit that brings us back to the Church and helps us with the sacraments.

And that’s the point of today’s celebration.  We remember that we are connected as Catholics throughout the world by our connection to the Pope.  We remember that we ourselves are the temple of God, as St. Paul tells us today, built on the rock-solid foundation of Jesus Christ, built up with the teaching of the apostles, the proclamation of the Holy Scriptures, and the guidance of the Church’s tradition.

The Scriptures today paint the picture of a Church that is not just a building, but is a living thing that goes forth and makes the whole world new.  Just as Ezekiel’s vision painted the picture of water flowing forth from the temple, cleansing and renewing the earth, so the waters of baptism flow forth from the Church of God, taking with it the many ministries of the parishes and the myriad of giftedness possessed by all the baptized believers in all the churches of the world, and flowing out into the world to make a real difference.  This is how the lost come to find salvation.  This is how the poor are fed.  This is how the unborn and the elderly sick are protected.  This is how the world, dark in sin and lost in the disrepair of apathy is bound up and made new and washed clean and healed.  Saint Paul makes it very clear today: we are the temple of God, and we are filled with the Spirit to make a difference in the world.  The Church that is us, we baptized ones, goes forth into a world aching for renewal and brings it all back to the God who made everything, and makes everything new.

And that newness is exactly what Jesus meant when he upturned the moneychangers’ tables and scattered the doves.  Because the doves were needed for the sacrifice, and the money which bore the inscription of pagan deities had to be changed for money that could be brought into the temple treasury – they weren’t doing anything wrong.  But Jesus’ message here is completely different than we might think at first – what he means by all of this is that there is a new temple, the temple that is he himself – that temple which will be torn down by disbelievers but restored in the Resurrection.  There is a new temple, and so that old one with all its dove-sellers and moneychangers isn’t really necessary any more, so take it all and go home, or come to worship rightly, in the temple that is Christ, that temple that will never ever fall into disrepair.

We very much need the church buildings we have among us.  We need St. John Lateran to be a symbol of the Catholic faith that has withstood persecution of every sort and remained standing to give witness to Christ.  We need St. Raphael’s church so that we can come and worship and find our Lord in Word and Sacrament.  But all of that pales in comparison to the importance of the Church that is you and me, and all the baptized ones of every time and place, filled and inspired and breathed forth with the Holy Spirit, gifted beyond imagining, flooding the earth with the torrent of God’s grace, making everything new, and bringing it all back to God who made it all possible.

The task is daunting, but we cannot be afraid to be Church to one another and Church to the world.  As our Psalmist tells us today, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold!”

Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, apostle

Today’s readings | Today’s feast

Today we celebrate the feast of the Chair of St. Peter the apostle. This is a feast that commemorates Jesus giving the servant authority of the Church to St. Peter, as we heard in today’s Gospel. This is a special day of prayer for the Pope, the successor of St. Peter among us.
Peter & the Keys

It’s important to remember that Peter was not chosen because he was perfect, but instead because he was faithful. Even after he denied Jesus, he turned back and three times professed his love. In today’s Scripture, he proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the One who comes in God’s name. Making that proclamation is the task of the Church in every place, and in every age. We disciples are called to faithfulness, just as Peter was, and we are called to witness to the authority of Christ in every situation: in our Church, yes, but also in our workplaces and in our homes. With the Lord as our shepherd, there is nothing we shall want in any situation.

Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Today’s readings

Peter and PaulToday we celebrate a feast of great importance to our Church. Saint Peter, the apostle to the Jews, and St. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, come together to show how the Church is truly universal, that is, truly catholic. There are similarities between the two men. Simon’s name is changed to Peter after he professes belief in the Lord Jesus, and Saul’s name is changed to Paul after he is converted. Both men started out as failures as far as living the Christian life goes. Peter denied his Lord by the fire and swore that he didn’t even know the man who was his friend. Paul’s early life was taken up with persecuting Christians and participating in their murder. And both men were given second chances, which they received with great enthusiasm, and lived a life of faith that has given birth to a Church.

In today’s Gospel, Peter and the others are asked “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Both Peter and Paul were committed to the truth about who Christ was. They had too much at stake. Having both failed on this early on, they knew the danger of falling into the trap. So for them Jesus could never be just a brother, friend or role model – that was inadequate. And both of them proclaimed with all of their life straight through to their death that Jesus Christ is Lord. We too on this day must repent of the mediocrity we sometimes settle for in our relationship with Christ. He has to be Lord of our lives and we must proclaim him to be that Lord to our dying breath.

Both Peter and Paul kept the faith, as Paul says in today’s second reading. If they hadn’t, it’s quite possible we would never have had the faith today – although that was certainly not God’s plan. But because they kept the faith, we have it today, and we must be careful to keep the faith ourselves. Too many competing voices in our world today would have us bracket faith in favor of reason, or tolerance, or success, or being nice, or whatever. But we can never allow that, we can never break faith with Saints Peter and Paul, who preserved that faith at considerable personal cost.

Perhaps Saints Peter and Paul can inspire our own apostolic zeal. Then, as we bear witness to the fact that Jesus is Lord of our lives and of all the earth, we can bring a banal world to relevance. Perhaps in our renewed apostolic zeal we can bring justice to the oppressed, right judgment to the wayward, love to the forgotten and the lonely, and faith to a world that has lost sight of anything worth believing in. To paraphrase Cardinal Francis George, the apostolic mission still has a Church, and it’s time for the Church to be released from its chains and burst forth to give witness in the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.