Today, we celebrate the oldest and first-ranked of Rome’s four great basilicas. St. John was surnamed “Lateran” because it stands on the site of the palace of the family of the Laterani. During his reign as emperor, Constantine gave the palace and its lands to the church in 311. A papal residence until the scandal of Avignon, St. John is considered the cathedral of Rome and mother church of Christendom. From the 12th century, this day, November 9, has been observed as the anniversary of its dedication.
The reason why we celebrate one of Christendom’s most beautiful and venerated churches is not because of its triumphal arches and colonnades, not because of its majestic baldacchino or its famed mosaics. We celebrate not the place alone, but the baptized believers, the ekklesia or gathering of people whose presence makes that beautiful space holy.
By virtue of the early believers’ faith which drew them together to offer praise and thanksgiving to God, the places where they met were sanctified. Remembering the words of Jesus – “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst” (Mt 18:20) – they came together in grassy places, on riverbanks and in their homes to learn and to pray. In times of persecution, the early believers met in the catacombs, and even that place where the dead were buried became holy by virtue of their prayer in the presence of Jesus.
Three centuries before the first church building was erected, Paul impressed upon his converts in Corinth that they were “God’s building,” for which Paul, by grace, had laid the foundation: Jesus Christ. Because of the presence of the Spirit within them, that building has become a holy place, a temple.
Paul’s words challenge us to consider how well we have preserved the sanctity of our own temple. Ordinarily, people enter temples to be in the presence of God. Do people sense the presence of God within us? Does our way of life reflect the fact that the very Spirit of God dwells within us, inspires us, animates and directs us? Do we treat our bodies with the reverence due a living temple of God? Similarly, do we respect and revere our brothers and sisters, who are also dwelling places of our good and gracious God? We all share the same foundation. The same Spirit has taken up residence in each of us.
We who believe in Jesus are responsible for being holy places where others will find God. But we are also church, a community of believers who are to offer a collective witness of integrity, justice, mercy and love to all the world. We are a voice that speaks out for what is right, defends the dignity of the poor and disadvantaged, and prays to God for guidance.
When he was offering his congregation a vision of the church, Henry Ward Beecher said, “Some churches are like lighthouses, built of stone, so strong that the thunder of the sea cannot move them – with no light at the top. That which is the light of the world in the Church is not its Largeness, nor its services celebrated with pomp and beauty, nor its music, nor the influences in it that touch the taste or instruct the understanding: it is the Christ likeness of its individual members”
Mark your calendars for: Nov. 16 & 17: Lee’s Summit Catholic Parishes Mission – begins at 7:00 p.m. at Our Lady of the Presentation Church
Nov. 23rd: Ministerial Alliance Thanksgiving Service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 6:00 p.m.
Nov. 25th: Parish Thanksgiving Mass at 7:00 p.m.