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homily dedication of lateran basilica
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Living blocks upon a firm foundation!

You may remember the images of ecstatic joy on the faces of people throughout Eastern Europe in 1989, when in a few months the entire European Communist structure fell. Statues of comisars were toppled. The Berlin Wall was torn down. People rejoiced! I was reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almight, free at last!!" as I saw people celebrate their freedom from terror and governmental tyranny. While we celebrate today the feast of the Dedication of the St John Lateran Basilica in Rome and that may seem quite distant from the joyful celebration of freedom experienced after the fall of communism, they are actually very closely related.

The first two hundred years of the history of Christianity were marked with terrible persecution of Christians. While the persecutions were not constant or universal most of the time, toward the end of the third century, around 290, the persecutions were particularly virulent and undertaken throughout the Roman Empire. Christians were bloodied and frightened, even if they still stood up to their persecutors with great courage. The situation for Christians looked the worst it had been since the Crucifixion!

Then suddenly, in a matter of a few months, there was a new emperor, Constantine, and he was talking like a Christian. His mother was a Christian. And the Church was no longer persecuted, in fact it was quickly made the favored state Church! Much like the eastern Europeans over a decade ago, the Christians were ecstatic with joy at this miraculous turn of events. One of the first acts of the new Emperor was to give to Bishop Sylvester of Rome, the magnificent Lateran Basilica as the central place of worship for the Christian community of Rome, now that they were no longer an outlawed sect. Where emperors who persecuted Christians once held court, now the Christians of Rome celebrated the Eucharist. The dedication of that basilica as a Christian place of worship was such a turning point in the experience of the Christian community that they couldn't have been any more surprised or happy if Jesus had returned from heaven on that very day!

It seems strange that we have a feast for the dedication of a Church building. Yet, if we take a look at today's readings we find that when the Church is referred to it is not some building, even the great Basilica of St. John Lateran. It is the community of believers. Buildings are not the Church. The pope is not the church. The bishops are not the church. The clergy are not the church. The laity is not the church. All of us together, as brothers and sisters in Christ, through the grace of baptism, are the Church! Further, St. Paul tells us that we are Church built upon the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. We are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in us!

Our gathering here is called a celebration. That is, we are celebrating the Eucharist. The priest is the presider at this celebration in which we all participate. While our ancestors in faith celebrated joyfully at the time of the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran that the terror of persecution had come to an end, we have much to rejoice over today. For all the hardships that we struggle with day to day, we are God's people. We are loved by God. The Holy Spirit dwells within us, as a community of faith and as the individual baptized members of the Body of Christ. What greater blessing could we possibly desire?

Also read A Course in Christian Spirituality by Deacon Shewman that is available through this link.

(c) 1997-2008. Richard Shewman. All stories, articles, reflections and other written material contained in this website are the creative fruit and property of Richard Shewman. All rights are reserved. The written material contained in this website may not be reproduced or published in any form, except for the individual and personal use of the reader, without the express consent of the author.