Sunday, November 9, 2014

Homily for Today

Welcome friends of Jesus to today's celebration of the Holy Mass that commemorates the Dedication of Saint John Lateran. What is the Dedication of St. John Lateran? This Feast commemorates the oldest and principal Cathedral in the Diocese of Rome. The St John Lateran Cathedral ranks first among the four great "patriarchal" Basilicas of Rome.

In ancient times, the land on which the Cathedral now stands was occupied by the palace of the family of the Laterani. A member of this family, P. Sextius Lateranus, was the first plebian to attain the rank of consul. In the time of Nero, another member of the family, Plautius Lateranus, at the time consul designatus was accused of conspiracy against the emperor, and his goods were confiscated. The writer Juvenal mentions the palace, and speaks of it as being of some magnificence, "regiæ ædes Lateranorum". A few remains of the original buildings may still be traced in the city walls outside the Gate of St. John, and a large hall decorated with paintings was uncovered in the eighteenth century within the Basilica itself, behind the Lancellotti Chapel. A few traces of older buildings also came to light during the excavations made in 1880, when the work of extending the apse was in progress, but nothing was then discovered of real value or importance. The palace came eventually into the hands of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, through his wife Fausta, and it is from her that it derived the name by which it was then sometimes called, "Domus Faustæ". Constantine must have given it to the Church in the time of Miltiades, not later than about 311, for we find a council against the Donatists meeting within its walls as early as 313. From that time onwards it was always the centre of Christian life within the city; the residence of the popes and the Cathedral of Rome. The latter distinction it still holds, though it has long lost the former. Hence the proud title which may be read upon its walls, that it is "Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater, et caput".

It seems probable, in spite of the tradition that Constantine helped in the work of building with his own hands, that there was not a new Basilica erected at the Lateran, but that the work carried out at this period was limited to the adaptation, which perhaps involved the enlargement, of the already existing basilica or great hall of the palace. The words of St. Jerome "basilica quondam Laterani" (Ep. lxxiii, P.L., XXII, col. 692) seem to point in this direction, and it is also probable on other grounds. This original church was probably not of very large dimensions, but we have no reliable information on the subject. It was dedicated to the Saviour, "Basilica Salvatoris", the dedication to St. John being of later date, and due to a Benedictine monastery of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist which adjoined the basilica and where members were charged at one period with the duty of maintaining the services in the church. This later dedication to St. John has now in popular usage altogether superseded the original one. A great many donations from the popes and other benefactors to the Basilica are recorded in the "Liber Pontificalis", and its splendour at an early period was such that it became known as the "Basilica Aurea", or Golden Church. This splendour drew upon it the attack of the Vandals, who stripped it of all its treasures. St. Leo the Great restored it about 460, and it was again restored by Hadrian I, but in 896 it was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake ("ab altari usque ad portas cecidit"). The damage was so extensive that it was difficult to trace in every case the lines of the old building, but these were in the main respected and the new building was of the same dimensions as the old. This second church lasted for four hundred years and was then burnt down. It was rebuilt by Clement V and John XXII, only to be burnt down once more in 1360, but again rebuilt by Urban V. (Source: Catholic Encyclopedia) Such is a brief history of today's celebration.

Today's First Reading from the Book of Ezekiel [Ez. 47:1-2, 8-9, 12] in the Old Testament spoke of the stream of life giving water. Its messages was, "I saw water flowing from the temple and all to whom that water came were saved."

The prophetic nature of the stream of life giving water is found in other Biblical passage. For example, in the Book of Joel, we read, "In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the Wadi Shittim. ("Valley of Shittim.") [Joel 3:18]. In the Book of Zechariah, we read, "On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter. And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and His name one." [Zech. 14:8-9]

In Psalm thirty-six, we read, "They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light." [Ps. 36:8-9] Finally, in the Book of Revelation, we read, "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb." [Rev. 22:1]

First of all, the flowing water suggests the streams of life that once came out of the Garden of Eden [Gen. 2:10-14]. As a consequence of Adam's disobedience and sin entering the world, the flow of this water stopped.

Secondly, the flowing water suggests the life saving water that flowed from the rock in twelve streams [Exo. 15:27] during the Exodus. As you may recall, after three days in the wilderness, the Jewish people were without water. [Exo. 15:22]

Finally, the flowing water suggests the living water that has been received through the glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus, beginning in Jerusalem.

We heard that the angel said to Ezekiel, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes." The Arabah is the deep geological rift that forms the Dead Sea and continues southward. The life-giving effect of the waters is apparent from the freshening of the salt waters and the abundance of fish.

According to the prophetic disclosure of the last verse during the First Reading, the life-giving water will flow eternally, ("every month") originating from the Divine Presence of Yahweh ("from the sanctuary"). Those ("all kinds of trees") who drink the living water shall continuously bear fruits ("fresh fruit every month"). By the grace of the Heavenly Father and the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the faithful shall produce fruits, first for the growth of the Body of Christ, secondly for personal spiritual growth.

The Second Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians [1 Cor. 3:9-11, 16-17] reminds us that we are God's Temple. The first verse of this reading said, "You are God's building." What does that mean, being God's building? Does it mean that we are God's fellow labourers, working together in God's interests? No! It means that we are cooperating with the Lord God who acts in and through His apostles. We are God's instruments, servants, ambassadors, humbly submitting ourselves to the way that the Spirit of Jesus guides us for the good of the Church. (See: Eph. 2:20-1; 1 Tim. 3:5)

Saint Paul informs us in this Letter that we are God's building. By the grace of God given to him, Saint Paul laid a foundation so others, including ourselves, may come afterwards to continue his spiritual work as guided by the Holy Spirit. He instructs us to be careful as to how we build on the foundation that he laid. No one, be it a preacher or a lay person, can lay another foundation other than the one that has been laid, that foundation being Jesus Christ. No one can lay another foundation for another Church in the Name of Jesus. For there is only one Church that was instituted by the Lord, only one Faith, only one Baptism.

Paul asked, "Do you not know that you are God's Temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's Temple, God will destroy that person. For God's Temple is holy, and you are that temple."

As God's Temple, we are living stones, Jesus being the cornerstone [Eph. 2:20]. We are branches feeding on the tree, Jesus being the Tree of Life. In the Book of Isaiah, we read a prophecy regarding the cornerstone, "Therefore, thus says the Lord God, 'See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation.'" [Is. 28:16] In the Book of Psalms, we read, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone." [Ps. 118.22]

When speaking of the Temple of God, discernment should be applied to determine which Temple is referred to. As the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is the Temple of God, each Diocese being a living stone to it, equally, each Diocese is a Temple of God, each Parish being a living stone that belongs to it. And equally, each Parish is a Temple of God, each member of the Church being a living stone that belongs to it. Finally, each baptized person is a Temple of God because the Divine Spirit dwells in him. It should be noted that the Temple of God within the individual is secondary. Why secondary? Because the Holy Spirit comes into the community and gives Himself to individuals through the community.

Each living stone, the Church, the Diocese, the Parish and the individuals are absolutely necessary for the productive growth of the Body of Christ. If one weakens, the entire building is affected. An example of this is the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church during the past year. While the scandals were limited to certain geographical areas, the entire Church has suffered from it.

During today's Reading from the Gospel of John, [Jn. 2:13-22], Jesus was speaking about the Temple of His Body. He was speaking about the new Temple, the Resurrected Christ.

We heard that when Jesus visited the Temple in Jerusalem, He found some people selling cattle, sheep and doves. Different kinds of sacrificial animals were being sold at the Temple so that the pilgrims would not have the added expense of bringing them from far away. When Jesus drove them out of the Temple with a whip, assuming there was a large number of sellers, He must have enlisted the assistance of His disciples. The reference to the whip during the Gospel Reading may have been symbolic, serving the purpose of emphasizing the authority of Jesus as the Lord versus being used as a physical goad.

During the aforementioned action, the disciples who were knowledgeable of the Holy Scriptures and who awaited the coming of the promised Messiah surely had two specific passages on their minds. These are, "It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." [Ps. 69:9] "And every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and use them to boil the flesh of the sacrifice. And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day." [Zech. 14:21]

Because of Jesus's action, those who were indifferent to the Laws of Moses and who lacked respect for the Temple, asked Jesus for a sign to prove that He had the authority to do what He had just done. As we all know from previous reading, the demand for a sign was continuously made upon Jesus. Such was not provided because signs are for the well-disposed, to evoke or to confirm their faith. A sign bears no fruit among the hypocrites, the unrepentant, the proud, the greedy, etc...

Jesus said, "Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up." What Temple was Jesus referring to? He was speaking of two Temples. While He foretold the destruction of the physical Temple in Jerusalem, however, here, His emphasis was a reference to His death and Resurrection, the one sign that should be sufficient for all believers of all times. It was only after His glorious Resurrection that the disciples discerned the profound meaning of Christ's words and deeds.

These words of Jesus, "Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up" are the exact words that the Jewish persecutors used against Jesus at His mockery trial. They took Jesus' words literally, such power implying some kind of sorcery.

Those who were present indicated that the Temple, not yet completed in Jesus' time, had been under construction for 46 years. How could Jesus possibly rebuild it in 3 days? According to the writings of Josephus, construction of the Temple of Herod began in the eighteen year, about 20/19 B.C. It was completed in A.D. 63/64, shortly before its destruction by the Romans. It took a total of about 83/84 years to build it.

Today's three readings teach us that through the glorious Resurrection of the life giving Temple of Christ, we become living stones that feed on the ever flowing Divine graces that are bestowed upon us as a gift of God's love and mercy for His sinful creations. This week, let us be thankful to the Lord God for His tremendous sacrifice as the Lamb of God, a sacrifice that is undeserved and unearned. May His Most Holy Name be praised forever!

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