Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome. Most people think of St. Peter’s Basilica as the pope’s church, but that’s not completely true. As the Bishop of Rome, his Cathedral Church is the Lateran Basilica, once dedicated to our Savior, but now named for Saint 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 and the mother church of Christendom. Today we celebrate the feast of its dedication on November 9, 324 by Pope Saint 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.