The story of basilica in Rome is a story of the people of God

Photo Caption: Sister Rachel, a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.

By: By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica/Nov. 9

Ezekiel 47:1-2,8-9,12; Psalm 46:2-3,5-6,8-9; 1 Corinthians 3:9c-11,16-17; John 2:13-22

Many years ago my sister and I traveled throughout Europe for an extended period of time. In our travels, we made a point of stopping at the major (and sometimes minor) churches in the cities we visited. The beauty of the different churches was truly awe-inspiring. But even more overwhelming as I walked around in the churches were the memories these churches held. Their walls had listened to prayers and petitions of literally thousands of people throughout the centuries.

The walls had heard the stories of world conversion and world unity, of persecution and triumph, of saints and sinners. They had “witnessed” God’s people being baptized with parental hopes and joys, couples married with dreams for the future, burials with the promise of eternal happiness. They had listened to prayers of agony and prayers of thanksgiving. The art in the churches receded with the awareness of these stories of tragedy and wonder, which were the fabric of the lives of those who prayed there.

Today we celebrate the very important church in Rome that was the center of activity until the 12th century. The Basilica of St. John Lateran is a beautiful church and a church whose art includes many stories and thousands of prayers. It is a place of unity and it is a place of reverence. It has been damaged by earthquakes, attacked by vandal forces, destroyed by fire. Yet it still stands, refurbished and renewed. It stands as a home to thousands of pilgrims searching for God.

What a story this tells! It is a story, not primarily about a building, but about a people, the people of God. As St. Paul says, “Brothers and sisters: You are God’s building. . . . Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:9c, 16-17)
Reflecting on the beauty of a church is, in reality, reflecting on the beauty of God’s creation — every unique individual in whom the presence of God dwells. As children of God, do we sense the presence of God within? Does our way of life manifest the Spirit of God? At the same time, do we recognize other people as a temple of God?

As Henry Ward Beecher said, “Some churches are like lighthouses, built of stone, so strong that the thunder of the sea cannot move them — with no light at the top. That which is the light of the world in the Church is not its largeness, or its services celebrated with pomp and beauty, nor its music, nor the influences in it that touch the taste or instruct the understanding: it is the Christ likeness of its individual members.”

The Gospel for today has Jesus in the temple making this very point. Jesus is clear about the meaning of the temple. It is a place of reverence, a place where He often gathered with others for prayer. For this reason, Jesus becomes angry at what He sees happening in the temple.

He is angry that those selling at the gates of the temple are desecrating this sacred space by their selfish gouging of the poor people who are coming to offer worship. The benefactors of the “gouging” are those who exact tax from the people after they have colluded with the Romans to tax these same poor people. It is the injustice the sellers are perpetuating that raises the anger of Jesus. It is justice and compassion for His people that Jesus committed to making a reality.

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