The waters of the river gladden the city of God
1 Corinthians 3: 9-1, 16-17 You are the Temple of God
John 2: 13-22 He spoke about the temple of his own body
The Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica falls on November 9 each year and this year it has landed on a Sunday. It provides us with a good change of diet from the regular run of Sunday readings and is an invitation for us to reflect on what the Feast means and why make such a fuss about it!
From the very early days of our history, the Church of Rome was seen to be a sign of unity among all Christians, a sort of Mother watching over her children. The great Second Century Saint Ignatius of Antioch described the Church in Rome as “Carefully Presiding over the whole assembly of charity.”
When some of us hear the Church of Rome being spoken about with tenderness and love, the sceptical part of us may have some doubts as we peer through the first door of the Lateran Basilica.
Through this door of the Basilica, our eyes may well stray to the memories we hold of the Church of Rome presiding over such adventures as the very bloody Crusades of the Middle Ages, the invasion of the Americas by Catholic conquistadors accompanied by armies and imposing the Christian way of life on peoples with the assistance of military muscle. (The tactics of today’s ISIS are really nothing new!!)
We may also remember the abuses of the Inquisition and the execution of women as witches because they dared to think for themselves.
Then of course in more recent times, the culture of clericalism and its accompanying code of secrecy that Pope Francis is so determined to bring to an end. It goes without saying that the culture of child sexual abuse in the Church went hand in hand with such clericalism and secrecy.
We could stop there, and our vision of Holy Mother Church would indeed be a pretty desperate one, leaving us wondering what the heck we are still doing here. From here all we see of the Church are its stories of corruption and sinfulness.
We can however, rouse ourselves from this sad litany and look through a couple of other doors of the Lateran Basilica and there we may well see the Church of Rome in a different hue.
One door may open to find people like St Benedict who has graced us with his wonderful, wise and earthy rule of life that has stood the test of time through so many centuries.
We might see the daring young Francis shaking the town of Assisi to life as he stripped off his clothes and walked naked down the main street, giving himself completely over to the Jesus who was stripped bare on the cross for him. We might see the likes of St Dominic preaching the Good News where hearts had not had the chance to hear it. Further up the road we might encounter Teresa of Avila on her horse, riding between monasteries that she established as a new form and powerful form of dedicated life.
There’s Ignatius of Loyola and the mighty family he left behind who continue to all our world to justice, and who have gifted us with our present Holy Father.
In more recent times we may see a humble priest, Peter Chanel giving his all for a people who mistook his kind gentleness as political interference in their tribal wars. Another door may open and reveal to us a vast array of people of faith who gave us the music, art, philosophy, science which formed the very spine of European culture for centuries.
There’s another door of this mighty Basilica which has only been opened recently, and through this door we might see Mother Teresa of Calcutta bringing dignity and comfort to some of the poorest of people. There we might also see Archbishop Oscar Romero, who started his time as Archbishop as a very conservative Church leader who then heard the cry of the poor, oppressed in his country of El Salvador and as he said, “the people converted me.” He ended up giving his life for the peace of his nation.
On the Basilica’s southern side there’s a door that opens on Australia and here we can see the beautiful face of Mary MacKillop who gave herself so that the poorest children might have a good education. What stories she has left us and what joy she has occasioned in us. Then there are countless people who today work in many fields such as education, health care, welfare, working for justice, research, science and the arts. Thousands upon thousands including your good selves who are seeking daily to live the life of the gospel.
These are just a few little glimpses of the Church to which we belong. Keep looking and you’ll find more through the lens of your own vision.
We are indeed a wounded, fractious, messy, sinful lot. We are also one great source of hope for peoples all around the world as we seek to show the face of God’s love as Jesus has revealed this face to us.
Holding this Church in our hearts, we come now to the table where broken bread, a reminder of our broken selves, becomes our Bread of Life, and wine poured out becomes the pattern for our own self-giving as it has been down the centuries for so many others.
We join with this great procession of believers, in a celebration of thanks for the God who finds life, hope and grace, in the places of our hearts and our world we had never dared imagine.