Façade, Function, and Fruitfulness
Wednesday, November 9, 2022, Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for today:
Christians naturally have conflicting emotions about veneration given to any building. Questioned by a woman of the Samaritans, who were not in good standing with the Jews because they worshipped on Mount Gerizim instead of in the temple of Jerusalem, Jesus answered:
“Believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.... when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
To a disciple who said to him as he came out of the temple, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Jesus responded, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” And to those who challenged him after he drove the merchants out of the temple, John 2:13-22, he said:
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
We ourselves are the “house of God” that we should be most aware of. In 1Corinthians 3:9-17 Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, you are God’s building.... Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” The point of Ezekiel 47:1-9 is that any temple or church is simply an image of the Church built of “living stones.”
Clearly, what is done in any church is more important than the church itself. We sometimes forget this, building churches designed more to conform to our aesthetical taste than to facilitate worship as a community.
The basilica of Our Most Holy Savior is popularly known as “St. John Lateran” because it began in the great hall of the mansion of the Laterani in Rome (donated to the Church by Constantine) and was served by monks of the monastery of St. John the Baptist next door. But “all churches and ecclesiastical buildings are dedicated to God and to God only.... [although] custom allows the loose expression, ‘dedicated to such-and-such a saint.”
A “basilica” was originally a royal palace. Then a church with a residence for patriarchs visiting Rome with an altar only the pope could use. Now “it is simply a title of honor” bestowed on a particular church building by the Vatican, “which gives certain ceremonial rights, e.g., of precedence, to the clergy who serve it.” Naming a church a “basilica” is like naming a priest a “monsignor”: it adds prestige without any additional function.
By making the dedication of the Lateran a feast for the whole Latin (Western) rite, however, the Church is making a statement. The Lateran is the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, which gives it true importance far beyond that of St. Peter’s Basilica, which is more popular with tourists, but whose dedication is not celebrated as a feast. And in the Lateran are the relics of Peter and Paul. Its altar, the only one in the West made of wood (though now encased in marble) may have been used by Peter himself. This should be our focus.
Initiative: Never admire a church without venerating God in it and you.
(Same Day) Thirty-Second Week, Year Wednesday November 9, 2016
Stand up—for, against, alone, and with
Titus 3: 1-7 teaches us that even though “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), we need to be good citizens of this earth as well: to be “loyally subject to the government and its officials, to obey the laws, to be ready to take on any honest employment.” We are not separatists. To work as faithful stewards to establish the reign of God over our society, we have to be involved members of our society. And of the human race as a whole. In the spirit of the Incarnation we say (with Terentius), “I am a human; nothing human is foreign to me.”
As enlightened by Christ, however, we see that many values humans care about are not authentic human values at all. And “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient” to God while slaves to society’s demands. We were “blind guides,” led by and leading the blind. But “when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,” God saved us, not because of anything we had done, but just “because of his mercy.” This calls us to be “stewards of his mercy.”
We who, left to ourselves were slaves of cultural conditioning, once freed by God’s mercy, should show this same mercy to all those with whom we associate — in family life, business, politics, or just common citizenship. We show “mercy” (help others out of sense of relationship) by taking responsibility for creating environments in which all can say with gladness and conscious gratitude: “The Lord is our shepherd; there is nothing we shall want.”
Luke 17: 11-19 shows us a man exercising leadership, which is simply stewardship trying to bring about change. One leper out of the ten cured did not act like the others. He “came back praising God in a loud voice.” Whether or not anyone followed his lead at the time, he set a precedent. He saw what was to be done and did it. Through many acts of leadership like this, we gradually change attitudes and values. We renew society. We just have to be alert to see what is missing, what is wrong, and what will set it right; then persevere in doing it until Christ comes again!
Jesus told the cured leper, “Stand up and go your way.” We need to stand up. Stand up for. Stand up against. Stand up alone. Stand up with others. But stand up. And “go our way,” which is his way, not the way of our culture, the way of our peer group, or the way that teachers who are not the Teacher may have taught us. This is leadership. This is stewardship.
Initiative: Be Christ’s steward. Take responsibility for breaking new ground.
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry