Feast of Dedication of St. John Lateran

[Scripture Readings: Ez. 47: 1-2, 8-9, 12; Jn. 2: 13-22]

A saying that occurs in Early Church treatises on prayer is that every place and every time is appropriate for prayer. The saying is understandable since the Jerusalem temple had been destroyed by the Romans and Christians were excluded from Jewish synagogues. Christians excluded themselves from pagan temples. Obviously during times of persecution they did not want to draw attention to themselves by putting up large, attractive buildings. Yet when the persecutions ceased churches began to appear everywhere, and they have multiplied throughout the world down to the present time. There seems to be a fundamental orientation in the human psyche that seeks a special place to be with transcendent reality however it is understood in the different religions of the world. It remains true that every place and every time is appropriate for prayer, but designated places and times support our prayer in every place and at every time.

Today we are celebrating the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. The Basilica of St. John Lateran is an example of what literary critics call a concrete universal. St. John Lateran is a particular church in a particular location; yet, it represents all Catholic churches wherever they are located. St. John Lateran is the cathedra of the Holy Father and today’s feast is a reminder that we are not only members of this assembly worshiping in this place. We are members of a universal church. In celebrating the dedication of St. John Lateran we are celebrating our own church here at New Melleray. We are celebrating Holy Family Church across the county road. We are celebrating all the churches in the Archdiocese and all churches throughout the world united under the Pope.

When I reflect on this morning’s gospel I am reminded of St. Benedict’s admonition in his Rule that the oratory of the monastery should be what it is called and nothing else should be done or kept there. As a Cistercian it is not surprising that I am attracted to simplicity in design and furnishings. The requirements for supporting prayer and worship for a parish are different than those of a monastery. Churches in Africa and Asia have different requirements for supporting worship and prayer than churches in America. And so on. Nevertheless we all need to be reminded that churches are special places for a special purpose, and we need to keep them and behave in them with reverence.

Church buildings also reflect the temples that are our bodies. It has certainly been my experience that it is easier to keep a physical space orderly than to keep clutter out of my mind and my heart. It is true that we have responsibilities in addition to prayer and we need to be concerned about them. Frequently they will provide the content of our prayers. But we live in a society that thrives on keeping us from being attentive to God, to the needs of our brothers and sisters and to the needs of our deeper selves. If we allow him, Christ will come to us in his word and as he speaks to us through others and he will make our hearts worthy dwellings for the Holy Spirit.

It is easy to take churches for granted because we see so many of them and enter them so frequently. Today’s feast calls us to be grateful that we have special places that support us in being attentive to God.