Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
[Scripture Readings: Ez 47:1-12, 8-9, 12; 1 Cor 3:9c-11, 16-17; Jn 2:13-22]
I have a warm spot in my heart for this Feast. When I was a student in Rome I went to Saint John Lateran often. I went to confession there to an American Franciscan ministering at the basilica. It is a good place to pray in and contains a marvelous 13th century mosaic in the apse, the Mystical Cross. Saint John Lateran is the Cathedral Church of the diocese of Rome and the Mother of all the churches throughout the world. It is right, then, that there is a twice-life-sized statue of each of the twelve apostles in the nave, six on each side. From this basilica there is a straight shot up the Via Merulana to the basilica of Saint Mary Major. After Saint Peter's, these are the two most revered of the six major basilicas in Rome.
But every consecrated church in the world bears all the deep meaning of the Mother Church of Christendom. Their walls, like the walls of this church, are marked with 12 crosses for the 12 apostles of the Lamb, and twelve candles burn at these marks on the anniversary of the dedication. The building in stone is a house for the living stones that make up the People of God, the Church, the Body of Christ, the holy temple of the Holy Spirit in the march of history, in every time and place, us, New Melleray, Peosta, Iowa.
With respect to the Mother Church in Rome, local churches are all peripheral. They are liminal and marginal and yet they fully contain all the grace and power of the center. I have read it called Jesus' tantrum in the Temple, his overthrowing everything there. What he did was to make himself the Temple, the Center that through his Spirit and the Eucharist is everywhere. That is how every local church brings the power and grace of the center to the margins. On the periphery, that power and grace are kept fresh and alive through creative contact with the whole range of human experience. On the margins there is freedom to apply the center's grace to real but different situations: Jesus and the Syro-Phoenecian woman conspired together to teach us that.
"The foreigner joined to the Lord should not say, 'The Lord will surely exclude me from his people,' nor should the eunuch say, 'See, I am a dry tree.' Rather, says the Lord, 'I will give them, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name. and I will make them joyful in my house of prayer."
On this Feast of the Cathedral Church of Rome we recall the present bishop of Rome, drawn from the ends of the earth, as he said, into the center. We recall his instinctual reaching right back to the periphery again holding in his hand the Mercy of God. It is my hope that the Church of New Melleray, stones and living stones both, will always seek how creatively to apply the grace and power of the center to the needs and concerns of those around us, to be a place of mercy, a hand of welcome, a house of prayer for all, like the water flowing from the Mystical Cross, like absolution from a friar's hand.