The Holy Temple of God by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he has said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
The feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica came about because the church went without something that it wanted and needed for a very long time. For the first 300 years of its existence, Christianity was an illegal religion in the Roman Empire. Consequently, there were no places of public worship for Christians. The worship of God, including the celebration of the Eucharist, was offered in hiding, mostly in underground churches, which were private homes modified on the inside to accommodate these services.
When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity at the beginning of the fourth century, many things radically changed for the Church. All of a sudden, public places of worship were allowed for Christians. Constantine gave the land on which St. John Lateran was built to the pope. The land had come to him by way of marriage and it also included a magnificent residence which was used to house the popes for many centuries.
One can try to imagine what an exciting time this was for Christians. The excitement and anticipation that preceded the construction and use of this church facility must have been intense. The dedication ceremonies in which the first churches were blessed and dedicated to the service of God were occasions for great celebrations, and brought tremendous joy and exultation to a Church that had been set free from 300 years of persecution. The dedication ceremonies were often recalled and celebrated anew on the anniversaries of these momentous events. That is the origin of this Sunday's feast.
The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome. Most people falsely assume that St. Peter's is the cathedral because it is used so frequently and exists inside Vatican City. The cathedral church is where the official seat of the bishop resides, and it has place of primacy for the formal celebrations in each diocese. As the cathedral of Rome, it houses the chair of St. Peter, which represents the authority Our Lord gave to St. Peter as the head of the Apostles. Above the facade of St. John Lateran is the inscription, "The Mother and Head of all the churches of the City and of the World."
As we celebrate this feast, we are also invited by the Church to look beyond the beauty and significance of the bricks and mortar, and to ponder the truth that God wants each of us to be holy. Our personal holiness is much more important than the holiness of our churches. As God's children by adoption, we are much more important to God than the building we construct with the sweat of our brow. Through baptism, God chooses to make a real home for Himself in our hearts and souls. "Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person, for the temple of God, which you are, is holy." (1 Cor 3:16-17)
St. Augustine said: "As often as we celebrate the dedication festival of an altar or church, if we assist with faith and attention, living holy and righteously, that which is done in temples made with hands is done also in us by a spiritual building. . . Therefore, since we are made worthy to become the temple of God - not by any forgoing worth of our own but by His grace - let us work, as hard as we are able with His help, that Our Lord not find in His temple, that is, in us, anything whereby the eyes of His majesty may be offended. . ."
It is fair to say that today we celebrate two great holy places, the cathedral of the pope and the heart of every Christian. Let us pray with deep desire that both temples may be beautiful and pure, and that in these temples God will be fittingly worshipped with deep love and devotion, in our prayer and in our lives of humble service.
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