Today we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. Constantine built it in the fourth century and the Church has been celebrating this on November the 9th at least since the twelfth century. This is a day to remember our unity with the Chair of Peter and the mother church. However, if we look at the lectionary readings for today, they challenge us to look beyond physical structures, even important, beautiful ones, and meditate upon our call to be holy temples of God.
A temple is to be a sanctuary, a holy place. From that temple should flow love, joy, peace, healing, and holiness. Ezekiel “saw” such a temple. Water flows out of it. That water makes salt water fresh and causes living things to multiply. Trees along the river produce abundant fruit and their leaves are used for healing. This image of God’s temple reminds me of Abraham. When Abraham lives by faith, everything he touches turns to gold. People are blessed simply because Abraham and his family live in the neighborhood. Joseph is a teenager locked up in prison for no good reason. Yet, from that prison, the water flows until the whole earth is blessed through him. The psalmist tells us how this can be. The temple is the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High. The waters that flow out of the temple to enliven the earth first gladden the city of God. St. Bernard said it well: “You cannot be a channel if you are not first a reservoir.” If God’s temple, be it Abraham, Joseph, or you and me, has a deep reservoir of faith, then that water will flow out and fulfill the promise to Abraham that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. We do not produce the water; we are “instruments of his peace.”
The apostle Paul takes this image even further. He says that we as a people are God’s temple. To be his temple we need to stand on the firm foundation, the only foundation of this temple, Jesus Christ. Thus, when we serve the Church as builders by sharing our faith and bringing others into God’s temple, we need to be sure that we are bringing them into the temple that has Jesus as its foundation, and not a building of our own choosing. In fact, he gets fairly blunt about it. This temple is holy because the Holy Spirit dwells here. So, if we do anything to destroy that temple, God will destroy us.
John’s Gospel shows us how serious this is. Jesus drives the money-changers out of the temple. They had turned a house of prayer, God’s temple, into a marketplace. Did Jesus have the right to make this judgment and do what he did? The leaders of his day did not think so. Do we? Does Jesus have the right to tell me as an individual temple of God or the Church as the collective temple of the Holy Spirit that we must clean up our act? Will I allow him to drive everything out of my life that keeps me from being holy, a channel of that life-giving water that flows from his saints to water the whole earth?
They destroyed God’s temple by nailing it to a cross. On the third day, that temple was raised up. From the altar of his body the life-giving water and blood flows for the healing of the nations. Today we celebrate a basilica in Rome. Look in the mirror and celebrate “that” basilica, too. And be holy.
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