The three readings of today’s Mass have to do with the temple – the place where God is worshiped. Today is the feast of the dedication of the church of St. John Lateran, the first church ever built in Rome. It is also the cathedral of Rome. The original church was built in 313 and was dedicated by Pope Sylvester on this date. That first church is a far cry from the magnificent church building we find in Rome today.
In the first reading we hear of how life giving waters flow from the temple coursing down to the stagnant sea but giving life to all along the way. The gospel tells of the zeal Jesus had for His Father’s house a zeal that brought Him to drive out the commercialism that had overtaken what was meant to be a house of prayer and praise and turned it into a marketplace.
The most important reading in today’s Mass is from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. As you’ve heard before the Christian community in Corinth left much to be desired. That is a blessing for us because Paul’s two letters to this community were written to deal with the divisions and abuses, especially around the celebration of the Lord’s supper, that were taking place in the community. Paul in his letters to this community hands on to them what was of first importance in the teachings of Jesus.
In those days there were no churches, no places of public worship for Christians. There were all kinds of temples to the different gods but no churches. The Christian people met in private homes, usually in the homes of people who were better off because they would have the space in which the people could gather. Paul’s teaching in our reading today is that the people really didn’t need a temple because they themselves are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in them as a community. Paul was angry with the divisions and rifts within the community. In a way he is saying to them “forget about the temples around here, forget about the temple in Jerusalem to which many of them had a great affection, forget about buildings, you are temple of God, God’s Spirit dwells in you and the foundation, the only foundation of this temple is Christ Himself.” Then Paul gives his famous warning, “if anyone destroys God’s temple, if any one destroys this community, by your divisions and factions, God will destroy that person.” For Paul the community held together by Christ, was of first importance.
Ten days from now is the second anniversary of the dedication of this church, this temple. We do have a beautiful building. More important, we have a beautiful temple – you good people. We are the temple of God and the Spirit of God lives in us as a community. It is this Spirit that gives us the courage to call God, Father. It is this Spirit that helps us lift our voices in praise. It is this Spirit that makes us aware of the needs of others. It is this Spirit that helps us acknowledge our own gifts and weaknesses and helps us forgive the weaknesses of others. It is this Spirit that helps us be proud of and willing to support the young people taking their first steps toward the sacrament of Confirmation. It is this Spirit that helps us realize, this is a beautiful building but we are its living stones.
Remember our first petition in the prayer of the faithful? “May we live this Mass outside these walls”. Going back to our first reading from Ezekiel and the image he uses of the life giving water flowing out of the temple and coursing down to the sea, can we see that as another expression of our petition, “May we live this Mass outside these walls”? Can we see ourselves as temples of the living God leaving this place as did the water of Ezekiel’s temple, to be sources of life, love, justice and healing which we bring from here to our homes, our places of work or pleasure?
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we remember our own worth and dignity as temples of the living God both as individuals and as a community, and know that the Spirit of God lives in us.