Dedication of St John Lateran Basilica

Homily for the feast of the Dedication of St John Lateran Basilica

One thing that makes me love the Catholic Church more and more is the fact that our faith and our Catholic tradition have withstood the test of time, have braved through the centuries of persecutions, heresies, dark ages, and modernization. It is just an amazing thing to see that for two millennia  now, the Catholic Church is still standing on the Apostolic pillars laid down by  Jesus Christ himself. Yes, the ‘journey’ wasn’t really that smooth. There have been ups and downs, joys and sorrows, trials and challenges. Yet the Church thrives on.  Thanks be to the Holy Spirit who inaugurated this Church at Pentecost and continually guides, sustains, and enlivens us all throughout. And thanks be to the Holy Spirit, the Church has produced  countless saints.

Not intending to sound too triumphalistic or un-ecumenical here, I just share my thoughts and my feelings on this because what and where we are now as a Church is a great testimony that our Lord indeed is true to his words when he ordained Peter as the rock upon which he would build his Church and which even ‘the gates of hell’ shall not prevail (Mt 16:18).

The St John Lateran Basilica in Rome, dedicated on this day and which we celebrate is one great witness to the fulfilment of our Lord’s promise to Peter and to us as his Church. I say it is a great witness because this is the first public building constructed by Emperor Constantine after his conversion to Christianity in the early 4th century. It is a notable thing because this was the first public place of worship for the Christians after 300 years of worshipping in homes, catacombs or in hiding due to terrible persecutions by the emperors in those times.

In the Roman Catholic tradition we honour this day of dedication because this basilica is the Cathedral of Rome and the seat of the Bishop of Rome (currently Pope Francis), the point or centre of unity in the Catholic Church. And because of this particular distinction we call this Church as ‘Mother and Head of all Churches of the City and the World’ and that it is the ‘first Christian basilica’ to borrow the words of Fr Francis J. Moloney, SDB.

We might ask: Why does the whole Catholic Church celebrate the dedication of St John Lateran Basilica?

Four reasons:

First, because the Church is the house of God and thus a holy ground, a place worthy of respect and honour. It is ‘my Father’s house’ Jesus would dare to say to the people in the temple as we heard in the gospel today. (Jn 2:13-22) It is also the place where we can experience and see for ourselves with the eyes of our faith, the meeting between the human and divine, the nourishing of the relationship between us and God. For us Catholics, it is the place, where we can a glimpse of the eternal banquet in heaven by sharing in the Eucharistic meal.

Second, because St John Lateran Basilica reminds us of the integrity and continuity of our Christian Catholic faith proclaimed by and handed on to us by the Apostles, through St Peter, the rock upon which Jesus Christ built his Church. How can a mere building preserve the integrity of faith, we may ask. Well, with this concrete point of reference we are able to trace our true heritage, i.e. our faith in Christ, that it is the same faith proclaimed by the Apostles, that faith which led many Christians to martyrdom, and that same faith proclaimed and handed on to us the early Church Fathers and to all who passed on the Christian faith faithfully through all generations.

Third, this feast also leads us to an appreciation of our own personal faith in Jesus Christ. Today, we are invited to re-examine, re-visit, re-affirm, and re-ignite our Catholic faith. And we can be aided by the knowledge, realization  and conviction that St John Lateran basilica has become a symbol of  the joys of our faith after terrible persecutions, as well as it is a symbol for us to see how the Catholic Church survived through and continued on with her mission in the world over the centuries of tempest, blows, trials, persecutions, modernizations, and even indifference. I call for an examination of our faith because as a Church we are not just a people gathered under a building we call Church. St Paul would say to us in the second reading (1 Cor 3:9-11, 16-17) that we are God’s building, God’s temple ourselves and that the Spirit of God is living among us.

Fourth, St John Lateran basilica is a symbol for us that indeed our faith is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. To understand these marks let us take heed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church  as it explains to us what these marks mean:

The Church is one: she acknowledges one Lord, confesses one faith, is born of one Baptism, forms only one Body, is given life by the one Spirit, for the sake of one hope (cf. Eph 4:3-5), at whose fulfillment all divisions will be overcome. (CCC 866)

The Church is holy: the Most Holy God is her author; Christ, her bridegroom, gave himself up to make her holy; the Spirit of holiness gives her life. Since she still includes sinners, she is “the sinless one made up of sinners.” Her holiness shines in the saints; in Mary she is already all-holy. (CCC 867)

The Church is catholic: she proclaims the fullness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. She is “missionary of her very nature” (AG 2) (CCC 868)

The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (cf. Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.( CCC 869)

So today as we celebrate the dedication of St John Lateran basilica let us thank God for the gift of our faith. Let us also thank God for the sacrifices of our fathers and mothers in the faith who passed on to us the same Christian  faith they had with such integrity, value and meaning. Let us also thank God for the Sacred place he founded and laid down for us wherein we can worship him more freely, more personally and more meaningfully. Finally, let us thank God for gathering us as a Church, as his worshipping assembly and for giving us the opportunity everyday to prepare ourselves for the eternal celebration and for the banquet he has prepared for us in his kingdom. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Praying for the dead- a noble thing to do

Homily for All Souls Day 2014

All Saints day and All Souls Day are two big days in the Philippines. Millions of Filipinos would take a break from our normal work, or studies and take time to go to the Church and to the cemeteries offering prayers for our departed loved ones. I remember the first time I went to the cemetery with my family on All Saints Day, I was really amazed. I was amazed to see many people gathering around the graves of their loved ones praying and lighting candles. It was just  fascinating to see people, young and old, boys and girls, gathering around the graves praying for the dead. Another thing I found amazing there was the way some people pay respect to their dead relatives. Some of them not only offer prayers or light candles or lay flowers. They would also put something on the tombstone or over the grave something that remind them of their loved ones, such as the favourite food of the deceased, favourite beverage or drink, etc. Seeing that, the kid in me kicked in. I just wanted to wander around the cemetery and satisfy my curiosity about the way people honour their dead relatives. However, I had to suppress my curiosity because my father would want us to go and visit each grave of our relatives, spend some 15- 20 minutes in prayer for each of the grave. And because I come from a big clan, I could still remember we literally spent the whole day just moving from one grave to another, praying and lighting candles. And I didn’t have so much fun in that. In fact, I thought then, this is one downside of having come from a big clan. And I could only ask myself: ‘Why bother praying for the dead? They’re dead anyway? I don’t think they really care!’

That was my childhood curiosity.

However looking back at it now, I realized I was being ignorant, because praying for the dead is indeed a big part of my being a Christian, and a Catholic at that. It is in fact part and parcel of our faith. Praying for the dead is one noble act that we can do to help our departed loved ones especially those who are in purgatory.

I’ll just insert in here a small Catechesis about this particular doctrine of Purgatory we Catholics believe in.

Purgatory or purification is a  “state [wherein lay those- my own word] who die in God’s friendship but who still need their  personal sins to be expiated (through the merits of Christ) and who should grow spiritually before enjoying the  beatific vision[1] It is to be admitted though that this doctrine of purgatory however has no clear biblical basis, as Richard McBrien would suggest,  but as McBrien would add “this is not to say that there is no basis at all for the doctrine.[2] There is rather a hint of this in Matthew’s  gospel when Jesus pointed out that there is no forgiveness of  those who sin against the Holy Spirit either in ‘this age or in the age to come’ ( Mt 12:32).  Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict VXI) when asked about the doctrine on purgatory answered; “My view is that if Purgatory did not exist, we should have to invent it… [because] he said, “few things are as immediate, as human and as widespread- at all times and in all cultures- as prayer for one’s own departed dear ones.”[3] This doctrine therefore is not just an invention of the Church. It is in the Church’s practice of prayer and penance therefore that we can trace  the real foundation of this doctrine.[4] This is affirmed by  the teaching of Lumen gentium in speaking of communion of the whole Mystical Body of Christ. The Council taught:

The Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honoured with great respect the memory of the dead; and because it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins (2 Mac 12:46) she offers her suffrages for them.[5]

In saying this  the Council expresses the truth that even after death there is still a possibility for the forgiveness of sins. The purgatory then serves as the cleansing, purifying and sanctifying process for the dead ones who  have decided for God yet not very consistent in living out with their commitment to God.[6] It can also be said that purgatory is God himself purifying, cleansing  and sanctifying us with the fire of his love.[7] This doctrine is definitively taught by the Church in the Council of Trent asserting that  “there is purgatory and that the souls detained there are helped by the acts of intercession of the faithful, and especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.”[8] (End of Catechesis)

This then lead us to one of the powerful ways we can offer in praying for the dead- i.e. Offering a Mass or Holy Masses for them. There is no other prayer that can benefit more to our departed loved ones in the state of purification  than the Holy Mass. If I can only share with you the beauty of the Mass and the benefits it has for us and for all the dead, that would be a great grace. But there’s no word that can best describe the mystery of the Holy Mass. All I can say is that it is so beautiful and that I am so humbled to be able to celebrate it. St Thomas Aquinas said: ‘The Mass, obtains for sinners in mortal sin the grace of repentance. For the just, it obtains remission of venial sins and the pardon of the pain due to sin. It obtains an increase of habitual (sanctifying) grace, as well as all the graces necessary for their special needs.’ This is only a glimpse of the beauty and the benefits of the Holy Mass. Pope St John Paul II even  called the Eucharist, and I can’t agree more, as the Church’s most valuable treasure. In his encyclical letter  Ecclesia de Eucharistia (#9), St John Paul II wrote: ‘The Eucharist, as Christ’s saving presence in the community of the faithful and its spiritual food, is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history.’

So let us thank God for the gift of the Holy Mass. Let us thank God for his generosity to give us his life-giving and soul enriching love for us through the Eucharist. At the same time to observe this month of November as a month to remember in our prayers our departed loved ones, let us make the effort to attend Mass and offer Mass for them.

I invite you to pray with me for all our deceased friends and relatives.

Into your hands, Father of mercies, we commend our brothers and sisters who have died, in the sure and certain hope that, together with all who have died in Christ, they will rise with him on the last day.

We give thanks for your blessings which you bestowed upon them in this life: they are signs to us of your goodness and of our fellowship with the saints in Christ.

Merciful Lord, turn toward us and listen to our prayers: open the gates of paradise to your sons and daughters and help us who remain to comfort one another with assurances of faith, until we all meet in Christ and are with you and with our brothers and sisters forever. Amen.

[1] Gerald O’Collins and Edward Farrugia, A Concise Dictionary of Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 2000), 217.

[2] Richard McBrien, Catholicism (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1994), 1143.

[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report (San  Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985),146.

[4]German Bishop’s Conference, The Church’s Confession of Faith: A Catholic Catechism for Adults. Ed. Mark Jordan (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 347.

[5] Vatican Council II, Lumen gentium, n. 50.

[6] German Bishop’s Conference, The Church’s Confession of Faith, 347.

[7] German Bishop’s Conference, The Church’s Confession of Faith, 347.

[8] J. Neuner and J. Dupuis, The Christian Faith: In the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, 7th  revised edition (New York: Alba House, 2001), 2310.

Love connects people

Homily for 30th Sunday in Ordinary time A 2014

For those of you who have used or still using Nokia phones, you might remember that every time you switch it on, you’ll see its slogan ‘Connecting people.’ I really took this slogan quite seriously when I got my first mobile phone. I established contacts and made more friends. And of course even if I don’t have any important thing to say to my friends, I still tried to make them know I remember them by sending them quotes of any kind, good ones basically.

I liked sending love quotes, especially to those whom I was trying to impress.

I’ll share some with you.

‘Love is like a rosary full of mystery.’

‘Love is like a Rubix Cube, there are countless numbers of wrong twists and turns, but when you get it right, it looks perfect no matter what way you look at it.’

‘Don’t fall for someone who won’t be there to catch you.’

It’s amazing how many definitions and descriptions we have about ‘love’.  It’s no surprise because as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI observes: ‘Today, the term ‘love’ has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings.’[1]

Love indeed, can be defined, expressed and described in many ways.

Jesus in the gospel today (Mt 22:34-40) would describe love, particularly love of God and love of neighbour as we love ourselves as the greatest motivation, the force behind and the summary of all the commandments of the Law and of the Prophets.

Jesus in here answered the question posed by the Pharisees as to which of the commandments they have learned as a Jew is the greatest. The Jewish people were given 10 commandments by God through Moses. But perhaps for them, the commandments are so general and somehow vague that they’ve made particular and specific commandments or laws out of them. They came up with 613- 365 of which are prohibitions [the same as the numbers of days in a year] and 248 are ‘laws of direction’.

So obviously, it would really be confusing as to which of them has greater weight. They came to Jesus using this ‘confusion’ to set a trap for him, to find an evidence against him, to know if Jesus really takes all the commandments of Moses seriously which is an expectation of all the devout Jews.

But then again, and this is one  reason why I love Jesus so much. Just as he loved us first before we could love him, he would catch us first before we could catch him. In the gospel he caught the malice of the Pharisees before they could catch him.

 To sort out their ‘confusion’ Jesus reminded them of two things: First, the law is not the end in itself. It is only one way to God. Second, there is more to the law than what is being written- the spirit of the law- the motive behind the law, the deeper meaning of the law- that is ‘To love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.’ Here Jesus reveals to them the key to follow the commandments seriously and faithfully.

I hope Jesus would say this same thing to the extremists and the Jihadists creating havoc and terror in many parts of the world today. I hope Jesus would say to them and this is my prayer that they’d listen to God speaking: ‘If you really love your God and are doing his commandments, show it by your love of one another, not hate or murder, or persecute those who don’t share your faith and your sentiments.’

I hope, like St Paul, we would have the courage and the conviction to stand up and tell this extremists: “Love is the one thing  that cannot hurt your neighbours: that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.” (Romans 13:10).

I hope and pray they’d hear St James saying: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.” (James 2:8)

But why do many people today fall short in loving God, more so in loving with our neighbours, and even fall short in loving ourselves?

Many reasons.

One is that we make God in our image and likeness, when it should have been the other way around. This could also be applied to our relationships with other people.

God is love, and we are supposed to be mirrors of his love, created in his loving image and likeness. I was caught up with this too. Years ago, I entered a raffle promising P1 million pesos as the grand prize. I was really hoping and praying I’d win. I even tried to make a bargain with God. I promised I would help the Church, give some money to the poor and needy, etc. In other words  I tried to control God. I tried to make God in my own image and likeness. Of course, I didn’t win, thanks be to God, otherwise, I would never have become a priest. Who would like to if you’re an instant millionaire?

Another reason is that we take God and others as a threat to our lifestyle, to our security, to our power. This is what happens to Jesus. His presence who is so loving, caring, understanding of the sinners, made the people who are supposed to be learned of the law, uneasy. So they tried to get rid of him.

This is evident in the Church today too. Pope Francis has been doing many wonderful things, very human way of doing things, soul-enriching yet very challenging to some leaders in the Church. Because what Pope Francis is doing opens up the eyes of the people and thus creating an expectation that ‘If the Pope could do that, why can’t we?’

Another reason why we fall short to loving God and our neighbour  is that we are too comfortable with where we are and what we do, and not taking the risks to love.Love is the greatest of all risks’ says Jean Vanier, the founder of L’arche community that was founded to help people with disabilities.

Of course, we can never love perfectly as human as we are. That’s why we still fall short in loving God and one another.

But this is not an excuse not to love at all.

Today we ask God, the God of love, to give us loving heart like his, a heart that loves by taking so much risk, a heart that beats for others and beats for the needs of others. We ask God to help us grow in love, and stay in love.

A way to grow in love is to keep these words of Mother Teresa in our minds and in our hearts. Mother Teresa said:

At the end of our lives we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done.

We will be judged by: I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in.

Hungry not only for bread— but hungry for love.

Naked not only for clothing—but naked of human dignity and respect.

Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks— but homeless because of rejection.

This is Christ in distressing disguise.”

Love is a thing that connects people. Jesus has shown us the way to love and he has commanded us to be loving ourselves. If we are serious of our Christian identity let’s love one another as Jesus loved us.

 

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas est (On Christian Love) encyclical  # 2