|Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12a
Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
Those unfamiliar with Catholic Christianity may find themselves wondering why on this day we have readings dealing with Temples and a feast dedicated to a building. The answer, for once, is not complicated. The Lateran Basilica is actually the cathedral church of Rome. It is the church where the Pope exercises his duties as the Bishop of Rome. Cathedrals are not always big churches, as some mistakenly believe; they are simply the churches presided over by bishops. St. Peter’s in Rome symbolizes the universal character of the Catholic Church, but John Lateran is where the Pope sits as bishop. This feast is thus not a celebration of a building per se; it is a feast celebrating the mystery of the church that finds its unity in the Pope.
The selection of readings is quite interesting. In the first, the imagery is clearly eschatological. That is, the text evokes a feeling of the intrusion of heavenly power into the ordinary word. My sense is that this reading was selected to remind us that the real church is more than the church we encounter in our every day lives. This true church is the one that is the body of Christ, both in time now and inhabiting the heavenly Jerusalem. The waters that flow are the redemptive waters of Christ himself, “gladdening the city of God,” as the psalmist claims, and gladdening the heart of all of us who have occasion to experience these waters personally. For me, the truth that is communicated here becomes most real in moments of genuine community where the sense of being “one body” becomes almost a physical sensation.
Yet, the creators of the lectionary were also wise to include the second reading. Even in the time of Jesus, officially religious people were not beyond corruption. Jesus saw the commerce in the temple precincts as a kind of desecration of the Temple’s power to bring people into the presence of God. Who in today’s church cannot relate to Jesus’ reaction? Recent scandals in the Catholic Church and in other Christian communities make it abundantly clear that religion cannot escape from the pettiness and brokenness of sinful humanity.
The trick is to keep one’s eyes and hope focused on the promise and the truth that we at times work so hard to hide. The church is not, in the end about beautiful buildings or, on the darker side, inadequate leadership. The church is the body of Christ in time bound for the realm from which Ezekiel’s waters flows. We are the temple, the basilica of God!
Happy feast day.
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