The Church, Where We Celebrate the Answer to the Love of God

Lectio Divina: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

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Roman Rite 

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica 

Ez 47 1-2.8-9.12; Ps 46; 1 Cor 3, 9-11.16-17; John 2: 13-22 

Ambrosian Rite 

Last Sunday of the liturgical year – Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King 

2 Sam 7, 1-6.8-9.12-14a.16-17; Ps 44; Col 1, 9b-14; John 18, 33c-37 

1) The Church is our home 

Today we should celebrate the XXXII Sunday in Ordinary Time, however since in 2014 this Sunday falls on November 9, the liturgy calls us to solemnly commemorate the dedication of the Mother Church of Rome, the Lateran Basilica, originally dedicated to the Holy Savior and later to the Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. 

1 Today the liturgy celebrates the ‘Dedication of the Lateran Basilica’ that was built by the Emperor Constantine, on the Lateran hill. This feast since the 12th century has been celebrated on November 9. Initially it was just a celebration in the city of Rome then it was extended to all the Churches of the City and of the World, as a sign of communion and unity to the chair of Peter, who, according to St. Ignatius of Antioch, ‘presides over the whole assembly of charity‘ and according to St. Clement of Alexandria, ‘presides over truth’

The readings of today’s Mass help us to search for a true and deep relationship of love with the Lord, whom we meet in the stone temples dedicated to the encounter with Him, but especially in Christ the “Temple of the living God” and in the Church made by us. However, before to briefly meditate on the sacred texts I think that it is important to ask ourselves, “Why is it important for the Christians to celebrate the dedication of a church and the existence of the church as a place of worship?” To respond I draw inspiration from the words of the Gospel: “The time has come, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to worship him.” 

These words raise others questions such as: “Why do we Christians give so much importance to the stone church if everyone can worship the Father in spirit and truth in his heart or in his own house? Why is there the obligation to go to church every Sunday? “. 

The answer is that Jesus Christ does not save us individually. He has come to form a people, a community of people who are in communion with Him and with one another. 

In fact, it should be noted that the religious man or woman has always sought in every way to make present and visible the divinity, even when faith said that it was a God invisible and inaccessible to the human understanding. The Chosen People, by God’s will, built the famous temple of Jerusalem to give a home to God, enjoy his presence and be a witness to the mutual fidelity to the covenant. In Christianity the stone church, as the new temple of God among us, has taken on a deeper meaning: it is the place where the believers celebrate the divine mysteries in communion of faith. It is the place where God is present among us in order to build a permanent dialogue with us, his children, and where, under the Eucharistic species, He feeds us with his body and his blood. It is the place where the divine mysteries are revealed in the liturgical celebrations and where the stone church makes visible the true 

Church that is the Communion of the faithful experiencing fraternity in Christ. Therefore, it is also the site of the feast that finds its highest expression in the celebration of the Eucharist, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord. 

From the first catechism lessons we have learned that by baptism each of us has become the temple of God and that Jesus has taught that the temple of God is, above all, the heart of the person who welcomes his word. Referring to himself and to his heavenly Father He said of every Christian believer: “We will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14, 23). St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God?”(1 Cor 3: 16). If the temple of God is the believer, it should not be forgotten that the place of the presence of God and of Christ is “where two or more are gathered in his name” (Mt 18, 20). Since the Second Vatican Council, the Christian family is called the “domestic Church” (Lumen Gentium, 11), namely the divine family temple, because, thanks to the sacrament of marriage, it is par excellence the place where “two or more” are gathered in his name and God is there. 

2) The Church place of a Presence. 

The new “place” where to worship the Father is the body of the risen Christ. Jesus himself mentioned it already in the debate with the Jews, greatly offended because the money changers and the animal sellers had been driven out of the temple. As we read in today’s Gospel, the Jews were asking for a sign as to why the Messiah had made so violent a gesture. Jesus answered with a prophetic sign: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” He was speaking of the temple of his body, as the disciples remembered after his resurrection. In his conversation with the Samaritan woman the same concept resurfaces. When asked where one must worship God, on Mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem, Jesus, even knowing that salvation will come from the Jews, puts himself above of those issues. The place where one can get in touch with God is not Mount Zion in Jerusalem in Judea nor Mount Gerizim in Samaria, but the person of Jesus, who has offered his body on the cross. Since then every altar is a sacrificial mountain. “The time has come, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (see Today’s Gospel). God is Spirit and Life in the same way that He is Love and Light. His worshipers do not worship with sacrifices of blood and of burned animals (holocaust) but rise with him in spirit, like beloved children who know how to love. 

3) Feast of Christ and our own. 

Today is a feast of the Son of God who became flesh and has put up his tent – his body – among us. The churches of stone are a sign of his presence: he speaks, gives himself as food and presides over the community gathered in prayer. On the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, every local community, above manifesting their communion with the See of Peter, remembers and celebrates the dedication of the local church. Jesus teaches that the temple of God is, above all, the heart of the one who accepts his Word, and every time this Word is accepted, Jesus says, “We will come to him and make our home with him.” 

Today’s feast it is not strange one, even if it seems to honor old and important “walls”, the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The readings of the Liturgy invite us to shift the focus on their symbolic meaning. Of course, this feast reminds us of the symbolic value of this particular cathedral, which brings us back to the Chair of Peter and his successors, the popes, as a point of reference and guarantee for the unity of the faith. However, we are celebrating today above all the Church as a spiritual house of which, as St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, we are the living stones built upon the foundation that is Christ. 

If we ourselves are God’s house, we are being built up in this age, in order to be dedicated at the end of the age. The building, or rather its construction, involves hard toil, its dedication means exultant rejoicing. What was going on here when these walls were rising, is going on here and now when believers in Christ are being gathered together. It’s by believing, you see, that beams and stones, as it were, are being hewn out of the forests and the mountains; but when they are catechized, baptized, formed, it’s as though they are being chipped and chiseled, straightened out, planed by the hands of carpenters and masons. “(St. Augustine, Sermon336, In dedicatione Eccle

The consecrated Virgin in the world live with particular intensity this dedication, offering their body and soul completely to Christ following the example of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. She was the first tent of the Word of God and the one who, first and in a unique way, gave body to the Body of Christ. I recommend to ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to be able to keep in our hearts the One whom she guarded even under her heart. Our prayer to the Virgin Mary and the example of the consecrated Virgins will help us to surrender ourselves to the Spirit, because only in the abandonment to the Holy Spirit, the mystery of the extension of the Incarnation, which is the Christian life, and the extension of the Incarnation of God, which is the mystery of the Church and of the holiness of each one of us, is fulfilled. 

Patristic Reading 

Saint Caesarius of Arles, bishop 

(Sermo 229, 1-3: CCL 104, 905-908) 

We have all been made temples of God through baptism 

My fellow Christians, today is the birthday of this church, an occasion for celebration and rejoicing. We, however, ought to be the true and living temple of God. Nevertheless, Christians rightly commemorate this feast of the church, their mother, for they know that through her they were reborn in the spirit. At our first birth, we were vessels of God’s wrath; reborn, we became vessels of his mercy. Our first birth brought death to us, but our second restored us to life. Indeed, before our baptism we were sanctuaries of the devil; but after our baptism we merited the privilege of being temples of Christ. And if we think more carefully about the meaning of our salvation, we shall realize that we are indeed living and true temples of God. God does not dwell only in structures fashioned by human hands, in homes of wood and stone, but rather he dwells principally in the soul made according to his own image and fashioned by his own hand. Therefore, the apostle Paul says: The temple of God is holy, and you are that temple. When Christ came, he banished the devil from our hearts, in order to build in them a temple for himself. Let us therefore do what we can with his help, so that our evil deeds will not deface that temple. For whoever does evil, does injury to Christ.

As I said earlier, before Christ redeemed us, we were the house of the devil, but afterward, we merited the privilege of being the house of God. God himself in his loving mercy saw fit to make of us his own home. My fellow Christians, do we wish to celebrate joyfully the birth of this temple? Then let us not destroy the living temples of God in ourselves by works of evil. I shall speak clearly, so that all can understand. Whenever we come to church, we must prepare our hearts to be as beautiful as we expect this church to be. Do you wish to find this basilica immaculately clean? Then do not soil your soul with the filth of sins. Do you wish this basilica to be full of light? God too wishes that your soul be not in darkness, but that the light of good works shine in us, so that he who dwells in the heavens will be glorified. Just as you enter this church building, so God wishes to enter into your soul, for he promised: I shall live in them, and I shall walk the corridors of their hearts. 

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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