Dedication of the Lateran Basilica - homily
As many of you know, Fr. Mike is in Rome with the choir. He has been away for about a week now. So, the nights at the rectory have been craz…quiet! I’ve been good – no parties (yet). I’ve been blessed to have gone to Rome twice. It is as they say it is – the cathedrals are overwhelming. There are so many of them and they are so grand and ornate. The first time, it was really too much to take in; the second time was a little better. My favorite church was St. John Lateran which is the cathedral of Rome. Today’s feast celebrates the anniversary of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica as the mother church of all Christianity which took place almost 1700 years ago.
Over the years, many people have asked me why churches are so ornate. I don’t usually give them a litany of reasons, but I thought it would be good to go over some of the reasons here. First, a church is so highly adorned because it is the House of God, a place of worship. This is sacred space. We perform sacred actions here, we hear heavenly speech and heavenly hymns, so it is fitting that we should see heavenly images. We should see images that help us to enter into the sacred.
Also, it is for the glory of God. We spare no expense to give glory to God who has given everything to us. One saint who was very much in union with the poor and lived radical poverty said, “poverty ends at the church’s doors”. We spare no expense when it comes to glorifying God in His House. He is worth it.
We also see in the Old Testament the amount of great detail that God goes into when it comes to building a temple. Just about every imaginable part of the temple is mentioned and every elaborate material is described. It really is incredible! Also, we see in the early Christian writings, there is a keen insight about the symbolism of the visible church. The visible church is to symbolize the invisible church: each one of us. Today’s second reading say that each one of us is a temple of God. So, the visible church structure is to symbolize the beauty and splendor of each one of us – our body, our soul. The visible symbolizes the invisible.
We hear in the Gospel another reason why churches are to be treated with great respect: Jesus had great love and passion for the House of God. The disciples are reminded of one of the psalms, “zeal for your house will consume me” during this Gospel scene. He had great zeal for the temple which was to be made with beauty and treated with respect.
We then see a switch that Jesus presents with regards to the temple. This probably represents the most important reason why churches are so ornate: the presence of God. The temple was where the Jews experienced the presence of God in a spiritual way. Jesus teaches that he is the new temple. He is the presence of God on earth in a real way. One scriptural scholar said, “the glorious presence of God – once confined to the temple – has been made flesh in Jesus”. He is the new temple. He is the presence of God on earth.
So, the most important reason why Catholic churches are so ornate is because they contain the real presence of God. In fact, if we look at the most elaborate item in this Church, we see that it is the tabernacle, the dwelling place of the Real Presence. We are not just speaking symbolically when we say that God is present in the Church. He is truly and really present here; the candle next to the tabernacle indicated that Jesus is truly present here in the Eucharist. We genuflect to indicate that He dwells in the tabernacle – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Let us all have great zeal for the House of God, this place of worship and prayer. For it is here that we truly experience His Real Presence.