Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
November 9, 2014
Last Sunday, I celebrated All Soul’s Day Mass with a small, rural community in a neighboring diocese. Their pastor was sick. I had two noteworthy experiences as a visiting priest. First, in spite of the fact that I did not know one person, even before Mass began, I became acutely aware that the people of the parish were still “in shock” over the fact that their beloved parish has merged with the faith community in the next town. Things changed and they are suffering. Even though I did not know the names of the people sharing their feelings and frustrations, their stories were very familiar because I have been hearing the very same things from folks I do know from people all around the Diocese of Saginaw. These are challenging times as we “reorganize” ourselves so that we can be of better service to one another and to Christ!
The second noteworthy experience came at the end of Mass. By the time I offered the closing prayer, heard the announcements read, and offered the final blessing…I felt as if I DID KNOW these people I had never even seen before that morning. I had prayed with them and there is nothing more intimate humankind can do than to pray together. Moreover, the Eucharist, the Source and Summit of our faith, is unmatched in its power to draw us into a deep and intimate relationship with Christ…and also with one another. And even though I did not know people’s names or addresses, as I stood at the Communion Table and the Ambo, looking out over this wonderful family of faith, leading them in our prayer, it was if I became instantly acquainted…and well acquainted at that. The young, eager faces, the lined faces of the elders, the arthritic hands and stooped shoulders, the varsity jackets…all of it made me feel like I was praying with people in a parish where I had served for many years. But the experience of familiarity was rooted in much more than these material, worldly things.
As I drove away, knowing it was unlikely that I would ever again preside in that church, or meet any of those parishioners, it occurred to me that, with God’s help, we will hopefully meet at a different Table…as we gather for the heavenly banquet. After all, through the Eucharist we shared, we have become traveling companions. And if we do our best to live what we celebrate, someday, we will have a joyful and eternal reunion at our ultimate destination…The Kingdom of God!
This Sunday, like last Sunday, we again step out of Ordinary Time to mark the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The original building was a family home – actually a palace – belonging to a wealthy Roman family. In 313 A.D., Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the “official religion” of the Roman Empire, and the grandiose building was dedicated as the first official place of Christian worship. As such, through the centuries, it has retained the title of “Our Mother Church.” Though destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions, what was once a family home still stands as a reminder of our humble beginnings…IN THE HOMES OF EARLY CHRISTIANS…most not so grandiose. This great Basilica in Rome, which most Catholics will never visit, is a symbol of our unity through the Eucharist, wherever we might gather to celebrate. The dedication of this place of Christian worship commands a special feast, even setting aside the Readings for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, so that we can hear John 2:13-22 proclaimed.
In the Gospel chosen for this feast, we see Jesus furious over the desecration of the Temple. Certainly, the Feast and the Readings motivate us to consider and appreciate more deeply our own parish churches, but this might be a good opportunity to reflect as well on our own homes and families. Christians’ homes are truly “the domestic Church.” As a Christian family gathers around their dining room table, they should share much more than a meal. They share life! And if their family life does not include a strong faith component…then it is not being lived to its full potential.
When families neglect to gather in prayer, they miss the opportunity for the deepest kind of intimacy among themselves and with Christ. When, for whatever reason, families do not leave their domestic church together to travel to their parish church…wherever that might be, to join together in Eucharist, they miss the opportunity of continuing to build on what our ancestors in faith have handed down to us…our faith in Jesus Christ.