You are the 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.
Most regular feasts during the church’s liturgical year are superseded by the Sunday celebration. However, this week’s feast is important enough for the church that it does not get dropped in favor of the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. We celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of the first major church built by Christians after the conversion of Constantine and his edict in 313 AD allowing Christians the freedom to practice their religion.
The Basilica of St. John Lateran was built in Rome on land given by Constantine to Pope Miltiades which included the ancient palace of the Laterani family. The popes, in fact, lived on this land until the Avignon period. The basilica was dedicated in 324 AD and was named Most Holy Savior. After the 6th century, the name of St. John was added. In our day, it is mostly referred to as St. John Lateran.
Why the big deal? There are two good reasons. One is that since Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire until 313 AD, it was prohibited to erect public places of worship. When the first church was built in Rome, it was a cause for a major celebration. The church has chosen to recall that day with profound joy through this liturgical celebration.
Secondly, St. John Lateran is the official cathedral of Rome, the seat of the pope. It is the cathedral of cathedrals since the church in Rome, as St. Ignatius of Antioch says, “presides in charity” over the whole Catholic communion. In fact, the facade reads: “the mother and head of all the churches of the city and of the world.”
As important as this commemoration is, the church also uses this celebration to loudly proclaim a more important truth of our Christian faith: Each and every human heart is a temple of God. “Do you not know that you are the 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). There will come a day in time when every cathedral, basilica, church and chapel on this earth will no longer exist, but human souls will exist for all eternity. God desires to dwell in us for all eternity. Each soul is more important than the most grand of cathedrals.
This great reality of our faith leads to better understand the nature of true worship of God. St. Ceasarius of Arles offers a poignant reflection: “My fellow Christians, do we wish to celebrate joyfully the birth of this temple? Then let us not destroy the living temples of God in ourselves by works of evil. I shall speak clearly, so that all can understand. Whenever we come to church, we must prepare our hearts to be as beautiful as we expect this church to be. Do you wish to find this basilica immaculately clean? Then do not soil your soul with the filth of sins. Do you wish this basilica to be full of light? God, too, wishes that your soul not be in darkness, but that the light of good works shine in us, so that He who dwells in the heavens will be glorified. Just as you enter this church building, so God wishes to enter your soul, for He promised: I shall live in them, and I shall walk the corridors of their hearts.”
Consequently, we are invited today, as we are every day, to seek conversion of heart. We are asked to look honestly at our brokenness and sin, repent with humility and true sorrow, and beg the Lord for the grace to live upright and holy lives. We are summoned to recommit to the dying to self that love entails in order to love God with all our heart and our neighbor with passion and zeal.
So, my brothers and sisters, our worship of God is twofold. We gather in faith to remember with joy the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran — the first major basilica erected by Christians for the worship of our most holy Savior. We also gather to joyfully recall that God has chosen to make us living temples; He has chosen to dwell in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The first form of worship is shallow and incomplete without the second: “for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”
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