Homily: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Readings of the Day

Have you ever been part of a human pyramid? I was once; that was enough. In Catalonia, Spain, they have human towers called Castells, which can go up to ten levels off the ground. It looks neat, takes a great deal of courage, however I have no earthly idea why folks would want to try something like this. Sometimes, I guess you have to be there to understand it. But building formations out of people seems to go back quite a while. It’s a place where folks literally have to depend on each other, hold each other up, and everyone matters.

It should be said of this story of Jesus cleansing the Temple that the merchants had a purpose to being there. Most of the Roman coins were unacceptable to the Temple, since they had an image of the Emperor as God on them. The Temple would only take one kind of coin, a silver coin minted in Tyre, and you had to convert what you had to something the Temple would take. If you lugged or drove an animal without blemish from your distant farm over the rough terrain to Jerusalem, it would probably have one when you got there, and the Temple only accepted unblemished animals in sacrifice, so being able to get them next door made all kinds of sense. There are two main interpretations of this. It’s thought that the fault is the merchants were cheating people, gouging prices for their services, which is why Jesus called it a den of thieves and drove them out. Also, Jesus is showing people they don’t need intermediaries like the merchants to have an acceptable offering to God, He is the only intermediary needed.

Why do we celebrate this day, the Foundation of St. John Lateran, the anniversary of the dedication of the Basilica on November 9, 324 in Rome? It was about 11 years after the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, legalizing Christianity, and the site was a fort of a unit that opposed him in the civil war just before. It was built to be the seat of the Popes, not only the Cathedral Church of Rome (which it remains today) but the mother church of all Christian Churches in the Western Empire. St. John Lateran was a step up from the house churches of the early Church and the buildings it used to occupy which were subject to confiscation and destruction during the persecutions. The Church had a building comparable to the Temple of ancient Jerusalem, a visible sanctuary on Earth. I think it’s lovelier than St. Peter’s and has just as much history, even though it burned down a time or two.

Paul talks about the Church being a body of living stones, and that language is still one we use today. It’s a little safer than being in a human pyramid or castell even though it’s a stretch of the imagination. We don’t bear the main weight of our building: Christ the cornerstone does. Christ is the one who holds us together, Christ is the one who preserves us and keeps us together. All the physical churches could disappear tomorrow and Christ’s church would still stand, just as it had the centuries before St. John Lateran. It would stand because there’s us, and will always be us.

Eucharist is the mortar that holds us together. Eucharist is what makes keeps this Church spotless, drives away greed and other vices, keeps us in place. We are the Body of Christ, the Church in its fullness, and Christ is our center. We hold each other up, and we don’t have to worry about falling down, because Christ is the one holding us all up. How well the Church stands depends on us. We’re called to hold each other up, we’re all important, and like the Temple of old Jerusalem, we can be a source of blessing, a river of healing for the world.

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