31st Friday in Ordinary Time
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
We celebrate the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. Most of us think of St Peter’s as the cathedral of Rome. But it is the Lateran Basilica that is the seat of the Holy Father who is the bishop of Rome. It is the oldest basilica and was gifted to the Church by Constantine and belonged originally to the ancient patrician Laterani family of Rome.
So we celebrate a sacred space today and yet in a sense we do not celebrate a sacred space. And this yes and no is also found in our gospel reading today. Jesus cleanses the temple and drives out the money changers and the pigeon sellers. He does not want His Father’s house to be turned into a market. And yet when confronted, He shifts gears radically and points to another Temple, His Body. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” Again you have the ambiguity. Space is important and yet it is not that important.
In pagan religious systems, space has an absolute importance. The space is the place where the god shows himself or herself. To meet the god you had to travel to the place. The place had spiritual and magical properties you would not find elsewhere. Persons related to spaces.
But with Israel’s God, there is a radical shift. At the spot of the burning bush, God reveals His name to Moses. Now Israel can call on His name and He is there with them. They are not locked to a space. God travels with them as long as they call on His name. Israel kept alive the memory of the burial places of Abraham, David, the prophets. But no one remembers the location of the burning bush. This itself signals an important shift. Persons are not related to space but persons are related to God as Person. They bear His name, they can call on a Person by the receiving of His name. We have the communion of persons.
So Jesus’ enigmatic ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up’ must be seen in this context. God’s ultimate desire is to build a spiritual temple, a community of persons who worship Him in spirit and in truth. The spiritual temple is His Son, the cornerstone into whose Body we are inserted not in some vague manner but physically. This is the great temple that is being built in the cosmos from the day the revolution began at the Crucifixion until Judgment Day. However since we are not pure spirits, we must gather in material buildings. This is what the feast is about. So the building is important but not all that important. We care for the buildings because of the community. It is not the other way around.
This is important for us today especially. The Church has a shape today in history and this is important but not that important. We cannot predict the Spirit and what He will bring about in the future. We should not cling desperately to places or structures as if they were all important. Here we have no lasting city, or place or system. But we do have Jesus – the true gathering place of all that is seen and unseen.