Homily for the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran
Today the universal Church celebrates the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. If you have never had the chance to visit the Lateran Basilica, and if we can ever get rid of COVID, I encourage you to plan a trip to the Eternal City to see it. Honestly speaking, on the outside it’s not much to look at, but on the inside, it is absolutely stunning. It is one of my favorite churches in Rome and one of four major basilicas in the city. The reason we celebrate its dedication throughout the universal Church is because it is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome and holds the Cathedra of the successor of St. Peter.
The Basilica was first built in the 4th century. Originally, it was part of the palace of the Lateran family, a wealthy and socially significant family in the Roman Empire. The palace and basilica were seized by Emperor Nero after the family was accused of conspiracy against the Emperor. Years later, Constantine I donated the basilica to the Pope just in time for a synod of bishops to take place there in 313, a synod which addressed the Donatist heresy. After that donation, the basilica became the original residence of the Popes until after the Avignon papacy. It has been pillaged by invaders, destroyed in earthquakes, rebuilt, destroyed by fire, and then rebuilt again. And thank God it has been because it is a beautiful church and one that is significant to our faith.
Those who have worked to preserve and restore the basilica over the centuries have all shared something in common – and it’s an attribute that was characterized by the Lord and one that we should imitate. It’s the same thing that we hear in today’s Gospel: “zeal for your house consumes me.” The beautiful cathedrals and basilicas that have been built throughout the ages are beautiful because they bring us to an encounter with the divine, they remind us of what is transcendental, that which is beyond ourselves. They all point us toward God. And in a sense, they remind us that we, too, are supposed to be temples of the Holy Spirit and dwelling places for God.
Each of us is made in the image of God. Because of that we are the dwelling place of the Spirit. We are called to take care of ourselves – body and soul. We cannot neglect these mortal temples, just as those who have come before us did not neglect the ancient cathedrals and basilicas. Zeal for God’s house must consume us…and by that I’m not speaking about basilicas or church buildings; instead, I’m speaking about heaven. Everything we say and do should be to direct our minds and hearts towards the eternal. What are some ways we can foster that? Go to Mass as often as we can; receive the sacrament of reconciliation on a consistent basis; read Scripture and spend quality time with the Lord each and every day; pray a rosary daily; ask for the intercession of the saints and the protection of the angels.
Our goal is heaven, it is the desire that God has for us. He loves us so much that He wants us to be able to dwell with Him forever. Do we have the same desire? Does zeal for God’s house really, truly consume us? I don’t think it does because if it did, we wouldn’t fall into sin constantly. Our thoughts would always be focused on our relationship with God. When we receive the Lord today, may that be our prayer. May each of us beg Him to allow our hearts to be totally consumed with zeal for His house.