Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
The lectionary for today’s feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran offers a wide selection of readings on the Church.
The story of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10) is omitted this year, being replaced by the readings for the feast of the Presentation of Mary. Using it today links the Church to the mystery of the Kingdom of God. In contrast to the wealthy ruler who kept the commandments but grows sorrowful at Jesus’ invitation to leave his possessions and follow him, Zacchaeus, also a wealthy and powerful man, is a ‘sinner’. Joyfully he comes down the tree. His declaration that he is just and uses his money in a proper way is responded to by Jesus who calls him ‘a child of Abraham’. He opens the door for Jesus to enter his house; the door to the Kingdom has opened wide for him.
We may see the facet of Church, the house of the people of God, where we gather to meet Our Lord, and where our gracious host affirms us in generosity and love. We may catch glimpses of Our Lord in our daily game of hide and seek, but he we celebrate the Word and share the Eucharist , and like Zacchaeus, have a personal encounter.
The responsorial Psalm 122 says ‘we go up to the house of the Lord’. Zacchaeus ‘comes down’. The humble are once again exalted.
We may ooh and ah at the beauty of a church building, perhaps our cathedral or the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Today we remember that our most humble church building finds meaning in its connection with St. John Lateran. As the cathedral of Rome, it is our Mother Church, we can feel at home there even from a distance, even if we have never seen it. John Chrysostom describes us in our new creation as the community of the baptized by comparing us to a church. Before baptism we are like a building with doors hanging off their hinges, neglected, run down, a place danger and chaos. After baptism we are beautiful, a place of welcome and gracious hospitality. We gather as Church, we are connected. In the reading of
1 Corinthians (3:9-13,16-17) Paul says that our foundation is Jesus, nothing other. Each of us builds upon that foundation. “The temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.” We bring our gifts; we make it beautiful and welcoming.
In the Church the table of bounteous blessing groans under the weight of what God sets before us. Here God listens to our prayer. We can be in speechless wonder (Isaiah 56:1,6-7). When the temple was blessed everyone fled as the cloud of God filled it. Isaiah sums up well our celebration, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people’…Here I will set the soles of my feet’, says God. Or as Annie Dillard suggests, we ought to wear crash helmets and fastener seat belts when we gather to praise God. We do not know the surprise of Our Lord’s coming among us.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.