If Her Walls Could Talk: Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; 1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17;2 Chronicles 7:16; John 2:13-22

It seems to be mothers who carry on the stories of the family. My own mother could be counted on to remember everything her children did. For some reason, she was particularly good at remembering my most embarrassing moments whenever I brought a young lady home to meet my parents.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the mother of all churches. If her walls could talk, she too would be happy to regale you with everything she has witnessed across the centuries. Through the entrance of this basilica have passed some of the finest and some of the most notorious people ever to walk the stage of human history. In her own cathedral chair have rested some of the greatest champions of the faith and some of the most crooked men ever to don vestments.

She has a wonderful sense of irony that she wears like a mantle. The ancient bronze doors that open to let in the world were taken from the Imperial Forum, where the Roman senate once voted to outlaw Christianity. The newest face of the basilica – her façade, to use the prophet Ezekiel’s term – premiered during the Enlightenment, when the vast majority of tourists passed her by to fawn over the crumbling ruins of the Roman civilization that Christianity conquered from within.

She was dedicated as the basilica of Christ our Savior on November 9, 318, re-dedicated to St. John the Baptist in the 10th century, to which St. John the Evangelist was added in the 12th century. This is only fitting, for both men were dedicated to Christ: the Baptist through the water of the Jordan; the Evangelist through his thirst for the Living Water who would pour himself out for the life of the world.

The prophet Ezekiel uses imagery that looks forward to Christ in both water and blood. When he speaks of the water that flowed from the temple, we see Christ, the temple not built with hands, from whom water and blood flowed as he finished the work that only he could do. In Ezekiel’s vision, the water gives new life to all it touches; in the passion and death of the Lord, the water and blood from his side gives life to the Church.

St. John Chrysostom once pointed out that this water and blood symbolize baptism and the Eucharist. From these sacraments the Church is born. She brings new members in through the rebirth of baptism, and she nourishes them with the body and blood of Christ.

the-lateran-basilica-2538151_640This brings us to the deepest reality of the feast of the dedication of St. John Lateran. This feast is in fact a recognition and celebration of Christ our Savior’s dedication to us, seen particularly in the sanctifying graces of baptism and Holy Communion. Through baptism, we are cleansed from sin and made members of the Church, living stones built upon Christ the cornerstone. Through Holy Communion, we are united as the Mystical Body with Christ, our Head. This is why St. Paul can say, Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Given this, let us close with a reflection on the gospel verse from 2 Chronicles: I have chosen and consecrated this house, says the Lord, that my name may be there forever. More than any basilica, more than any parish building, Christ has chosen and consecrated us. As baptized Christians, we bear his name forever and as missionaries sent in his name, we are to be his eyes and his heart in the world. May our hearts be consumed with zeal for his house, just as zeal for the Father’s house consumed Christ.

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