When people visit Rome the must see place to go is St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. It is an awesome structure. Another must see place is the Vatican Museum with it famous Sistine Chapel.
But today we celebrate the dedication of the first church ever to be allowed to be built in the Roman world. It was dedicated by Pope Sylvester in 314 under the reign of Constantine. Originally it was dedicated to the Most Holy Redeemer but eventually it was dedicated to St. John the Apostle. These words are carved on the front of the present day church – ‘the mother and the head of all churches of the city and of the world.’ St. John Lateran is the cathedral church of Rome; it is Pope Francis’ parish church. Popes lived in the Lateran palace next door to St. John Lateran up until 1870 when Rome fell to forces calling for the unification of Italy. It was in 1870 the Pius 9th made the Vatican his residence, to be close to the tomb of St. Peter. Popes have lived at the Vatican ever since. The present church of St. John Lateran is a far cry from the simple building consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 314.
The first reading from Ezekiel and the gospel of John deal with the holy temple in Jerusalem. In Ezekiel life giving water flows out the temple toward the east bringing abundant life where ever it flow, even to the sea of stagnant waters which it vitalizes. In the gospel we see an enraged Jesus clearly the temple of the commercialism that had crept into it territory, reclaiming it as a place of prayer and worship.
The church, the Christian community was alive in Rome long before Pope Sylvester dedicated a modest building in 314. Our reading from Paul’s letter to the community in Corinth tells us what we should already know – the church is not bricks and mortars, the church is men, women and children. The church is a community of people who belong, believe and become.
Cardinal Ambrozic consecrated this building Nov.19th 2008. In doing so he used holy water to bless it and holy oil to consecrate its walls and altar. When each one of us was baptised these two elements were used, holy water and holy oil thus making each one of us a temple, a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Individually and as a group we are temples of God and the Holy Spirit lives and acts in us.
Today’s feast is more than about a simple building consecrated to the worship of God in 314. Today’s feast celebrates our consecration, individually and as a community, and calls us to be mindful of our dignity as bearers of God’s Spirit to the world.
Paul’s words were probably upsetting to those who read or heard them. Everyone knows that God only dwells in heaven or in sacred temples built to worship gods. Paul teaches that God dwells not primarily in buildings but in human beings. The primary dwelling place of God on earth is no longer in bricks and mortar, no matter how magnificent they are, but in a community of men, women and children gathered together in the name of Jesus.
When Paul writes about someone destroying God’s temple he is writing about people in the community of Corinth who were causing dissension and conflict in the community. He’s writing to those who would destroy the unity of the community and he warns that God will destroy such people.
As you know our parish motto is, belonging, believing, becoming. As a parish we want everyone who comes here to know that they belong, they are family and all are welcome. By believing in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ that we celebrate as a family we help each other grow in our faith. By trying each day to live our lives faithful to the gospel we help each other grow to full maturity in Christ. We are all ‘living stones’, living is the important word – living lives that are open to others, living our faith every day and every day trying to grow to full maturity in Christ. Belonging, believing ,becoming.
Today we celebrate ourselves as temples of the living God. We give thanks for the gift of faith that makes us so. May our lives bear witness to our faith by what we do and by what we say.