The Dedication of St John Lateran
The Lateran Palace used to be the Imperial Palace until Emperor Constantine issued his decree of religious liberty. He writes, “… [May] this restoration of equal privileges to all, have a powerful effect in leading them into the path of truth. Let no one molest another in this matter, but let everyone be free to follow the direction of his own mind.” Constantine was not promoting religious indifference. For him, Christianity was the truth, but he wanted to spread the truth by preaching and persuasion, not by force.
Until the decree of Constantine, Christian worship had to be celebrated in private homes or inconspicuous chapels, and sometimes in catacombs. All that began to change on October 2, 313 AD. Constantine’s wife, Empress Fausta, gave the Lateran Palace to the Church. It became the Pope’s residence for the next thousand years, and the construction of the Lateran Basilica was the first of all the Churches that are now spread around the world. It continues today to be the Pope’s own cathedral, the mother of all churches, including St. Peter’s.
What is it that makes this a sacred place, that defines a church as holy? Every culture has certain sites revered as holy because of the religious experience of the people. For the people of Israel, it was the Temple that was holy.
Jesus, however, said the Temple would be destroyed and he would rebuild it in three days, not the Temple of stone, but the Temple of his own body. In Jesus, the holy place became a holy Person, the presence of God, with whom we can commune and experience God’s love. Churches are holy because Jesus is there, and people are holy when they become temples of the Spirit of God.
Today’s feast reminds us of our religious freedom to find the presence of God in our Churches and in one another.