Saturday, November 8, 2008

We Are God's Building

(Dedication of the Lateran Basilica)

After hearing the introduction to today’s Mass, you may wonder why we are celebrating the dedication of a church four thousand miles away. Well, here’s how it works: in any given church, like this one for example, the anniversary of the dedication is celebrated as a solemnity. For a cathedral, the principal church of a diocese, the anniversary of dedication is celebrated throughout that diocese. Now the Lateran Basilica—dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist—is the cathedral church of Rome. That is to say that it is the Holy Father’s church as bishop of Rome. Therefore, it’s kind of like the cathedral for the whole Catholic Church, and so the celebration of its dedication is universal.

Now there’s something inherently ironic about the Mass for the anniversary of a dedication of a church. On the surface, it seems like we’re celebrating the dedication of a building. But the readings and prayers don’t bear this out. In fact, the readings and prayers for this Mass suggest to us that we we’re not celebrating buildings at all, but the spiritual structure we ourselves have become in Christ.

St. Paul expresses it beautifully in the second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians: “You are God’s building,” says Paul. “You are the temple of God.” So when we talk about the Church, we aren’t talking about Sacred Heart church in Yonkers or the Lateran Basilica in Rome, or any physical structure. We are talking about a people who are called together and bonded to one another by our mutual communion with the humanity of Christ. That’s what the Church is, a spiritual building built of the “living stones” of human hearts and lives. That’s us, together with all the baptized here on earth and in heaven above.

When we build a physical church as a place to pray and offer the Eucharist, it’s only an expression of the Church which is us. And so everything about a church building is meant to express a spiritual truth about who we are as Church. For instance, here at Sacred Heart, in a wonderful imitation of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, images of the apostles adorn the pillars. This is to express the spiritual truth that the apostles are the foundation and basic structure on which the Church is built. To borrow another example from Pope Benedict during one of the homilies he gave when he was with us this past spring, consider the stained glass windows. From outside they just look dark, but here inside we can see how they depict the mysteries of the faith with delightful beauty. And so it with the spiritual building that is the true Church. Those on the outside don’t “get” the great mysteries of the faith. But to us within the Church, the mysteries of the faith illuminate our lives and bring to each mind and heart a peaceful and delightful light.

So whenever we find ourselves praying in a beautiful church, as we are today, let us always consider that these delights for eyes and ears are only expressions of who we ourselves as God’s building. Let us be God’s Church for the sake of the world. Let each of be a safe place for people to come and open their hearts. Let us imitate Jesus himself in ejecting from ourselves anything that profanes the sacred spaces of our lives. And let us offer ourselves as spiritual sacrifices, that we might become the living water the prophet Ezekiel saw flowing from the Temple, giving refreshment and new life to the world around us.

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