Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica – November 9, 2014. The readings for today’s feast can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110914.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, your feedback and for sharing this blog on Twitter, Facebook and reddit. God Bless, Fr. Jim


“What is trending right now?”

Whether you’re looking at Yahoo, Twitter or Facebook; watching a news program on television; even going real old-school and reading a newspaper – all of these forms of media seem to have adopted this “trending” thing which has evolved as a result of our social-media culture. 

In some ways, it seems like a virtual flash mob.  These different websites and apps from smart phones and computers are able to measure what is being texted, tweeted, snap-chatted, instagrammed or whatever other new app might be out there that I’m missing – and they come up with a list that is posted on different websites in a top 5 or top 10 ranking list that constantly changes as people’s retweets and hashtags evolve throughout the day.  Supposedly telling you what is the thing most people are talking about.

So at 1:30 in the afternoon on Tuesday the list of what was trending included – Wayne Brady’s depression; Kawasaki Ninja (the worlds fastest motorcycle) Matt Le Blanc (Joey from the show “Friends”) “Body transformation” where he revealed his biceps – were what was “trending.”  For someone with ADD or who’s easily distracted, these trending lists are a bit of a nightmare… In my research for this homily, I found myself clicking on random things on the list including “#AlexfromTarget” – and then 20 minutes later asking myself why do I care?  And I suppose you can’t look to this simply at some random point in the day for things that will have lasting, long-term impressions – or stories that will be of major consequence a few hours later.  So many celebrities and pop-culture stuff kind of pop in and out rather quickly. 

I kept thinking that here it was Tuesday, November 4th with elections going on all around the nation and that didn’t even seem to enter the top 10, but… again, I suppose that its hard to take these lists serious at one given hour. More than likely, as these hours become days, and days become weeks, and weeks become months – we get a more fuller picture of our modern history. To the point that when there’s a year-end review, and media-sites compile all these things, they will be able to measure what was most pressing, most urgent, most newsworthy things which, no doubt, will see things that were recurring, and trended for longer periods of time than the moment the nation seemed transfixed by Matt LeBlanc’s flexing of his muscles. 

If I had to guess, more than likely when 2014 comes to a close, a list of things that trended for the year will be like #Ebola; Robin William’s suicide; ISIS will rank a bit more newsworthy. These things affected us culturally, socially – they were part of our history.  They will likely be a part of the story people will tell future generations about what life was like around here at this point in time. 
This idea of “trending” seemed a good way of explaining why we’re celebrating what we’re celebrating today.  “The Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica”.  On the surface, just reading that title of this feast day seems like a nightmare for a homilist, because at the core, we are basically commemorating how in the year 324 this Church in Rome was first dedicated. And not St. Peter’s Basilica – which if you were going to have a feast day for the entire Catholic Church around the entire world to celebrate, St. Peter’s that magnificent structure which comes immediately to mind when we hear the words “The Vatican” would seem to make sense. We’re talking about another basilica, another Church on the other side of Rome.  More than likely, some of us might even wonder how does this relate to our lives at all? It’s very nice that this Cathedral basilica in Rome has been there for close to 1,700 years – but for most of us who have never seen it (and may never get over to Rome to see it) other than a historical curiosity, why would we even take time out of Ordinary Time to commemorate this? 

But this feast is more than commemorating the day an old Church in Rome was dedicated.  It is remembering a much more important, historic moment that shifted the life of the Church – the life of all Christianity.

Celebrating Mass in one of the chapels of the Lateran Basilica
in Rome, July, 2014.  Love how the painting depicts
St. John the Baptist and St. John, the Beloved Disciple
pointing to Christ and the consecrated Host as if to say:
“this becomes this…”

The dedication of the Lateran Basilica reminds us of the moment that those living in the Roman empire in those early centuries of Christianity no longer needed to fear death simply for following Jesus Christ. The celebration of Sunday Mass no longer needed to be done underground tombs or secretly in homes. Even more telling, the empire acknowledged the one true God that Jesus had revealed to humanity – The trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit could now be praised, worshiped and acknowledged by the secular world as the one true God.  Because up until then, the Emperor himself was considered a god – which is why the persecution of Christians had been so fierce. But with the Emperor Constantine having converted  to Christianity that changed everything.  Many people throughout the Roman empire were hearing the Good News of Jesus openly proclaimed and were converting to it as well.  They were no longer “enslaved” or “owned” by the oppression of a Roman emperor “god.”  Christianity, Jesus, Rome being seen as a “New Jerusalem” would all have been things that were “trending” in the year 324 and that was a game changer for everyone

All of this was symbolized in a very physical, visible way in the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome.  Today that Church is meant to be a symbol of our unity as Catholic Christians throughout the world and we are to remember that sadly, all these years later this very night there are Christians who are persecuted, who are killed for being a follower of Jesus Christ. This feast inspires hope to them and demands our support and prayers that their persecution will end.

But this feast also opens a more immediate question for us here.  What is “trending,” in our lives… Who does our world acknowledge as it’s “god?”  Where does our society look to for it’s “god?”  Here we live in a nation where at least a quarter of the entire population has been baptized as Roman Catholic Christians; nearly 80% of all Americans claim to be Christian.  But honestly, does it really look like our world has heeded the words of St. Paul in today’s second reading and made Jesus Christ our foundation?

It’s true religious bigotry, and condescension towards faith-filled people is far from over (I could write a book about such incidents right here on our campus); at the same time we can rejoice and be thankful that here in the United States we don’t have to be afraid to lose our lives for being Christian. Every day we have an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus Christ by our words and actions.  Each week we have an opportunity to come together as the People of God and hear His word and be transformed by His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. That transformation isn’t just for us personally – it is meant to make us the living Church. That’s why we are called “brother’s and sister’s.” Do we take that seriously that we are connected closely with one another? We are family.

And those ties extend beyond this room throughout all of the Catholic-Christian world.  We are united with the soldiers celebrating Mass tonight in the back of a Jeep in the deserts of Afghanistan; the persecuted Christians the Middle East and China; as well as our friends at Rutgers and Kean Universities who are celebrating Mass right now too. Which is why today’s feast is bigger than just remembering a building but points to that reality of that living Church.  All of us become that temple of God. Will zeal for that house consume us? Will others be aware of our passion for God and His kingdom? Today, you can make a life-changing difference. It takes only one person to make a change in society, others and ourselves. The fire that consumes you will enable you to go forth empowered more than you will ever know. Burn with passion. Burn for God and watch what He will do with your steps of faith. It could be the beginning of a new trend just waiting to break out.