The Dedication of St. John Lateran November 9, 2014

Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12 + 1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17 + John 2:13-22

 There is no doubt in my mind that there are many who prefer to think that this day on the calendar of the church is all about an ancient basilica in Rome. While I have been there several times and would quickly name it as my favorite among the great Roman basilicas, the feast of November 9 on the Roman Church calendar asks more of me than memories and images of a big church building. It is a grand place that still has a 4th century baptistery I delight in seeing every time I can. There are precious relics of Peter and Paul above the great altar, and there is a simplicity that ignites the imagination of anyone who steps into that enormous space knowing that it holds the chair for the Diocese of Rome and was the scene of many significant councils in our history. At the same time my knowledge of its history reminds me that it has not always been so grand, and that the Dedication we remember today was not actually of the building we see in the 21st century. It was once an abandoned derelict of a building without a roof and doors. If fact, the doors it has were looted from the Roman Forum!

For me, and I hope for you, this Feast comes to remind us and awaken us again to the wonder and mystery of the Incarnation, of the truth that God has come among us to make a dwelling place with us and for us. This day is about sacred space, all sacred space. It is about the place and the times when God and humankind come together. It is a day that can celebrate our healing and freedom from sin and our elevation by grace and mercy restoring us to the condition we enjoyed before sin had wrecked its havoc and broken our relationship with God.

We rejoice today not just that a basilica was dedicated and set aside for the Christians of Rome, but we rejoice because there is sacred space everywhere the Christian family gathers to celebrate the Eucharist and rejoice in the gift of God’s mercy and love.

We rejoice today because this space is holy and because we are free to gather here again to meet our God and share the love God has poured on upon us in the holy place.

We are reminded today that this place and every place dedicated and set aside exclusively for a Divine encounter is holy and unique, worthy of great respect and honor.

These places are not auditoriums, concert halls, or museums.

These places are sacraments in a way that speak to us of God and unite us to God.

The dates of dedication for many of the Churches in which we worship are long forgotten or have simply faded into archives in dusty files locked away.

So today comes for us all to remember and rejoice that someone with great faith, devotion, sacrifice, and commitment built this place just like workers for Constantine first built the Church of the Savior, St John, at the Lateran Gate next to the Lateran Palace.

Years ago in my own ministry, I began to recognize that a building has a great deal to do with shaping the spirit and the identity of the community that assembles within its walls. Those people are that church, and every church building, big or small, grand or simple is us. This is where we measure and mark our lives. It is why in many places at this time, the closing of churches no longer in viable use or no longer able to be maintained is so painful. It is why during times of revolutions church buildings are so often desecrated and destroyed. Yet all of this goes beyond brick and mortar, glass and marble.

Thomas Merton once recorded this truth, “I thought churches were simply places where people got together and sang a few hymns. And yet now I tell you … it is that Sacrament … Christ living in our midst … it is He alone who holds our world together.”

What we really celebrate today is Christ living in our midst, holding our world together through all that we do in here because of this place. We do it because of the One who draws us into this sacred place. There is One here who nourishes our hopes, who calms our fears, and who makes each of us—with all our flaws and imperfections— his tabernacle. It is all because of Christ in the Eucharist. It is as simple as that. This is something to remember, to cherish, and celebrate.

Father Tom Boyer