Every year on November 9th, we celebrate not the death of someone who was named a Saint, nor the birth of someone significant but the dedication of a specific Church in the City of Rome. We celebrate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. Which often confuses people. When you think of the most significant Church in all the world, you would think of the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica. This Basilica is on the other side of town – and many tourists probably don’t make it over there.
But its importance isn’t because of artistic beauty or popularity with tourism. It recalls a pivotal moment in the life of the Church. It was the year 324. So nearly three centuries after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – followed by the martyrdom of thousands upon thousands of Christians who had heard His Great commission to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, which they did. Starting in what was considered the center of the earth, Rome. At this point in History, it was no longer a crime to be a Christian. The persecution by the empire had ended as now Christianity had evangelized the entire empire. The false, pagan gods of the empire had been proven to be just that – false gods. And now the Christian people no longer had to hide their faith. They could boldly, proudly publicly profess it. And the very first public Cathedral, which would be the “seat” of the Bishop of Rome (also known as the Pope) the Lateran Basilica dedicated to “St John” – intentionally vague since it’s for both St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist – was dedicated.
A few centuries before this pivotal moment, St. Paul wrote his fellow Christians the words we heard proclaimed today: you are God’s building… you are the temple of God…the spirit dwells in you. In Jesus Christ, the importance of physical buildings was never greater than that of the soul of each and everyone of us Christians, who were “dedicated” as a temple of God when we were Baptized. We celebrate this feast day not to focus simply on a particular building but to remember all those brothers and sisters who laid down their very lives to evangelize the Roman empire to the point of what had been inconceivable a century earlier: – a day when not only would they as Christians would be accepted but they would have converted the entire empire and eventually outlast that earthly power. Our ancestors in the faith could never have imagined almost 1,700 years ago that the Church dedicated on that site this day would outlive every known human enterprise and institution of that day.
For us in 2020, we’re meant not to look back simply with nostalgia but to hear Christ’s zeal for God’s house in the Gospel. That same zeal that drove him to cleanse the physical temple of Jerusalem, Jesus has even greater zeal for your soul and my soul…for these temples of God where His Spirit dwells within us – hoping that we will reciprocate that zeal, like our ancestors did, and re-evangelize our world, cleanse the Church on earth and fulfill Jesus’ great commission once again.