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?
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.