Sunday, November 9, 2008

The mother of all churches

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

...His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me....
(John 2:13-22)

Today is the Feast of the Dedication of the Saint John Lateran Basilica.

St. John Lateran is the Pope's cathedral or principal church of the Bishop of Rome. It was once a royal palace and basilica which belonged to the ancient Roman Emperor Constantine and his family. After Constantine’s conversion in A.D. 313, the Emperor gave the palace and adjacent church to Pope Miltiades.

It is here that the most powerful pope of the middle ages, Innocent III, had a curious dream of a magnificent church breaking apart. In that dream he stood looking out over the Lateran Church and watched with fear as the proud building shook, the tower swung, and the walls began to crack. Suddenly, a small common looking man, barefoot, in peasant garbs, with a rope tied as a belt, came towards the Lateran. Rushing to the falling Church, he set his shoulder in under the wall and with a mighty push straightened the whole falling church, so that it again stood aright.

Soon afterwards, a group of beggars from Assisi arrived, led by a man named Francis, asking for his approval for their lifestyle and work. The Pope, still wary of the trouble caused by sects like the Albigensians and Waldensians, was at first hesitant. As Francis passionately pleaded his cause, the pope then remembered the man in his dreams. Having recognized the hand of God, he encouraged the movement of Francis of Assisi that renewed the Church.

Today, the church building whose dedication we celebrate is not as important as the reality it symbolizes. Every church building, no matter how large or small, symbolizes the Body of Christ, with Jesus as the cornerstone, the apostles as the pillars, and each member as a living stone that together comprise the edifice. As todays Gospels narrates how Jesus drove out the merchants from His Temple, we recall the words of the Scripture: "For the zeal for your House consumes me".

May our celebration today draw us closer to the Lord Jesus, the One who promises us that the Church will prevail even against the gates of Hades.

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