9TH NOVEMBER 2022
MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
Today we celebrate the dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome. Why celebrate the dedication of a Church in faraway Rome, you may ask? It is to remind us of the importance of the Church building as sacred space set apart for personal and collective encounter with God. It reminds us of our calling to live in deep communion with the successor of Peter, the rock on which Jesus built his Church, and the one who confirms us in our faith.
Historically, the Basilica of St John Lateran is the oldest Church of Rome and the highest ranking Church in the world, followed by St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. As such it is the mother of all Churches. When we celebrate its dedication to God, therefore, we celebrate the mystery of God’s special presence and indwelling in buildings set apart for divine worship, including our own parish Church.
We know that God is everywhere. Yet when the people of God erect a building and dedicate it totally to God’s service, God’s glory comes to dwell in that building in such a way that the building can now be called the house of God. Solomon recalls this mystery in his prayer of dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem: “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). So, while we celebrate God’s special indwelling in a Temple, we must remind ourselves that God’s presence is not confined in the Temple. God is still everywhere. But God manifests His glory in a special way in some persons, places, and things. A Temple or Church is one such place.
In earlier days, a Temple, Church or shrine was revered so much as to suggest that God dwelt exclusively in such places. People went to Church, participated in Mass, received communion and went home without knowing who was sitting beside them in
Church. Spirituality was very individualistic and the man or woman sitting next to you was rather seen as a distraction in one’s intimate communion with God. Worshippers forgot that we are brothers and sisters, and that we come to Church to worship God as family.
To discourage this self-centered religiosity, Vatican Council II introduced some changes in worship such as the priest facing the people at Mass and worshippers exchanging the sign of peace. But we swung from one extreme to the other, and today many Christians have lost the sense of the Church as a sacred place, to the point that the comportment of many worshippers in our Churches today borders on irreverence. Many Christians have altogether abandoned traditional practices that were meant to remind us that we are in God’s presence when we enter the Church. These include such little things as dressing in a decent manner for Church, signing oneself with holy water on entering the church, genuflecting or bowing to the altar or the tabernacle before taking one’s seat or before leaving the Church, not chatting in Church, and lowering one’s voice when one has cause to talk in Church.
Dear brethren, the loss of the sense of the sacred in Church buildings and Church worship might be one reason why young people are no longer keen on Church attendance. If they come to Church thinking it to be another social gathering, no wonder they find it so boring. But when we realize that the Church is a holy place, a place of encounter with God, with one another and with oneself, then we bring a certain disposition of mind and body to Church Mass which helps make worship an uplifting rather than boring experience. Today’s celebration of the dedication of St John Lateran invites us to renew our faith in the Church as a house of prayer and to cultivate habits and practices that make it easy for God to encounter us whenever we go to Church.