From the vault: my 2008 homily for today, the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome:
This is one of the more unusual feasts on the church calendar. It doesn’t commemorate a saint, or a biblical event. It celebrates a building. Specifically, the Lateran Basilica, in Rome. It’s the oldest of the four major basilicas in Rome, and as such serves as the official “home” of the pope – the seat of the bishop of Rome. St. Peter’s gets all the attention, but it’s the Lateran that is really the “pope’s church.”
A few years ago, my wife and I got to visit Rome and see the Lateran. You’ll find some remarkable objects – above the altar there are relics of St. Peter and St. Paul. There is also wood that is said to come from the table of the Last Supper.
But one of the most striking spots is actually outside the church. If you go to the square across the street, you’ll see a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, with his arms outstretched. It commemorates an important moment in church history: the Lateran is where Francis went to ask the pope for permission to start a religious order. And if you remember the story, his inspiration was a voice that he heard in prayer, a voice that told Francis “Rebuild my church.”
It’s a great image – and a great lesson.
A church building is brick and mortar, wood and glass. But – ultimately – it is supported by the arms and the labor of those who love it.
Ultimately, it is people.
It is you. It is me.
“You are God’s building,” Paul writes to the Corinthians. “You are the temple of God and the Spirit dwells in you.”
And it is up to us to keep the spirit – and to spread it – and to help it to dwell in others.
And it all begins here, in this tabernacle, this temple of God.
Many of you may remember Gene Flood, a longtime parishioner here. Gene was an important part of this parish’s history: he was the first baby baptized in this church. And nearly eight decades later, at his funeral here, his casket was sprinkled with holy water from the same font in which he was baptized. It was a beautiful reminder of how we mark so much of our sacramental lives within these walls. From baptisms to funerals and a thousand moments in between.
But there is one part that cannot be emphasized enough.
In his autobiography, Thomas Merton wrote, “I thought churches were simply places where people got together and sang a few hymns…and yet now I tell you, it is the Sacrament…Christ living in our midst…it is He alone who holds our world together.”
That is what this is really all about. That’s why we are here. That’s why we have the youth programs and the choir and RCIA and pastoral care and all the things that stewardship supports. It is to ensure that this sacrament, Christ living in our midst, continues to hold our world together through all that the parish does, all our ministers do, all that we do, together.
It is all because of Christ in the Eucharist.
Remember that. Cherish that. And celebrate it.
Because when all is said and done, that is really what we are supporting. And it is, by the grace of God, where and how we will find our salvation.
Our prayer should be that we do that with joy, and with zeal and — like that statue of St. Francis shows — with open arms and open hearts.
Read more about the Lateran in “A Celebration of Home” by Aleteia’s Kristen Anderson.
Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons