08 November 2014

WE ARE THE CHURCH

Feast of the Dedication of The Basilica of St. John in Lateran
Jn 2:13-22 (Ez 47:1-2, 8-9, 12 / Ps 46 / 1 Cor 3:9-11, 16-17)


St. John Lateran is not a saint.  It is a church, a place of worship.  Today we celebrate the feast of its dedication.

St. John Lateran is not a person.  It is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome whose bishop is the pope himself.  Unknown to many, St. Peter’s Basilica is not the church of the pope; it is his residence.  The church of the pope, because he is also the bishop of Rome, is the Basilica of St. John Lateran.  And because the bishop of Rome is also the pope, his church, the Lateran Basilica is given the pre-eminent title "Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput" ("Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head").  It is the mother and head – mater et caput – of all Catholic churches.

St. John Lateran is not a name of a person or a saint.  It is the name of a basilica.  It is a combination of two names: John and Lateran.  The “John” in the name of the basilica refers to both St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.  The church is dedicated to both Johns.  The Lateran comes from the family name of the donor of the land on which the basilica stands.  Thus, rather than simply “The Basilica of St. John Lateran, the church is more properly rendered as “The Basilica of St. John IN Lateran” or “Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano” in Italian.

The Basilica of St. John in Lateran used to be a palace.  It became part of the properties of Emperor Constantine when he married his second wife, Fausta, who belonged to the Laterani family.  Fausta used to live in the Lateran Palace; thus, prior to its conversion into a church, the basilica was known as the “Domus Faustae” or the “House of Fausta”.  Friendly to Christians, Emperor Constantine gave the Lateran Palace to the bishop of Rome.  The exact date of the donation is unknown but church historians agree that it had to have been when Pope Miltiades was the bishop of Rome and was in time to host the synod of bishops in the year 313 A.D. to address the Donatist heresy.  Eventually the palace was converted and extended into a basilica to serve as residence of Pope St. Silvester I who consecrated it in the year 324 A.D..  From then on and until today, it serves as the seat – the cathedra – of popes as bishops of Rome.

Unknown to many, the Basilica of St. John in Lateran was rededicated twice which led to the church being dedicated to the two St. Johns.  Though already consecrated by Pope St. Silvester I to the Most Holy Savior in the year 324 A.D., the basilica was dedicated again in the 10th century by Pope Sergius III to St. John the Baptist and again in the 12th century by Pope Lucius II to St. John the Evangelist.  Thus, the official and full title of the Lateran Basilica is Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris et Sanctorum Iohannes Baptista et Evangelista in Laterano or “The Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and of Sts. John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran”.  For a thousand years, the Basilica of St. John in Lateran was the seat of Church government, having the pope residing there until the 13th century when he moved into the St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican hills.

Together with the Basilicas of St. Peter, of St. Mary Major, and of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Basilica of St. John in Lateran, where four ecumenical councils were held, twenty-eight remains of popes are buried, and still is the cathedral of the pope as bishop of Rome, is one of the four major basilicas of Christendom.  But should that be enough reason for us to celebrate its dedication?  Why do we celebrate the dedication of the Basilica of St. John in Lateran when we, in the Philippines, are thousands of miles away from it anyway?  Why does the usual 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time liturgy this year give way to the celebration of the anniversary of the Basilica’s consecration?  We are not citizens of Rome and neither are we from the Roman diocese, are we?

We celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. John in Lateran for three reasons.  First, being the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, in celebrating the feast of the Lateran Basilica, we renew our filial affection to the bishop of Rome who himself is the pope not only to the people of Rome but to us all.  Second, through the same celebration, we declare that though we are separated from one another by great physical distance, there is only one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  Just as the Apostle Paul says in Eph 4:5, there is only one Faith, one Lord, and one baptism so is there also one Church, one “Body of Christ” in the words of the same Apostle in Rom 12:5, 1 Cor 12:12, and 1 Cor 12:27.  There is no Filipino Church as opposed to the Roman Church.  There is only the Church in the Philippines just as there is only the Church in Rome, for there is only one Church present in different parts of the world.  Thus, the joy in remembering the dedication of the Basilica of St. John in Lateran is the joy of all the churches.  The entire Church – and not only the Church in Rome – gives thanks to God today for the Basilica of St. John in Lateran, the cathedral of the pope as bishop of Rome.  And third, celebrating the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. John in Lateran (or any church for that matter) should occasion for us an honest reflection on how faithful we have so far remained to the mind and heart of Christ for the Church He originally intended and ordained.

Are we still “Church”?  Are we still the Church of Jesus or have we been reduced to a civic organization or, worse, a fans club of some sort?  Do we see our selves and do we live our lives as Christ sees and lives out the Church as His very own Body?  Looking at our individual selves – the living stones of the living Church – is our fidelity to the chosen shepherd of Christ’s flock authentic and actual?  Looking at our selves together as Church, can we, as Jesus does in the Gospel today, claim to be the Father’s house or have we turned that same “house” into a marketplace?  With Jesus in the Gospel today, can we, without falsehood, hypocrisy, and mediocrity, quote Ps 69:9, and say, “Zeal for Thy house consumes me”?  If not, then, what consumes us individually and as Church?  These are painful questions that demand from us even more painful answers.  These questions never change no matter what kind of church-community we belong to – be in a basilica or a simple parish church – and the answers we must give should never be less than the most sincere and humble.  For the greatness of a church is not in its canonical rank among other churches but in how it stands before God.  And lest we forget, the Apostle Paul reminds us in the second reading today: “You are God’s building…the temple of God…the Spirit of God dwells in you.”


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