A Homily for the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran. November 9, 2014. Our Lady of Hope. Kansas City MO
What are we doing here?
What are we doing here?
Last week the question touched on a real controversy for the churches of the reformation:
Purgatory, Prayers for the Dead, and the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Today we can ask the same question, but not stir up and controversy.
The only controversy – and very little of that – is why celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica at all? Anglicans stopped celebrating it 450 years ago.
Catholics may even wonder why we do it.
Why take up a whole Sunday to celebrate the dedication of a church most of us have never even heard of? Sundays are supposed to be more important than any other celebration except for major feasts and solemnities.
So we’ve just answered our question. We celebrate this Feast as if it is a big deal because it IS a big deal. It’s a bigger deal than the celebration of the dedication of Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, given by the emperor Constantine after the Peace of the Church – the Basilica of Christ the Savior, the Head and Mother of all churches, the oldest church in the West.
The Lateran Basilica is the first Christian temple. It tells us a great deal about the Christian faith. Christians did not create a temple and place it among all the older ones to the pagan gods and goddesses. Christianity is not one religion among others.
Nor did they build a temple to serve primarily as a shrine for an empty Holy of Holies as in Jerusalem, or a place for an idol into which only priests or priestesses could enter.
Rather, this first Christian Temple was a basilica – a former public building, rededicated to the celebration of the sacraments and the proclamation of the word of God – a Temple for the People of God, priests and laity.
The Lateran Basilica is a House of God and a House of the Church.
Even so, it doesn’t see to be a big enough deal to trump the celebration of Sunday – the primordial feast.
That is, until we start praying and reading the scriptures appointed for the day.
Then you see that we are not as much celebrating the dedication of the church building as we are celebrating the living Church of God, the mystical Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
If we are looking for any controversy of a protestant kind, we could ask, “Did Christ intend to establish a church?” And answer, “Yes indeed he did! And this is it!” And I am not talking about Our Lady of Sorrows – as beautiful as it may be.
It may not be an accident that almost exactly five years ago – November 4, 2009, Pope Benedict issued his Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. And it was just two years ago, exactly, that we celebrated the opening Mass of the Anglican Use Conference we celebrated.
The opening four paragraphs of Anglicanorum Coetibus are a stunning proclamation of the reason why we celebrate this Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica.
I have the bad habit of skipping over the opening paragraphs of documents like this – all the “Whereas” paragraphs, and get right to the action paragraphs, “Therefore be it resolved.” Not that the Pope writes like the Roberts Rules of Order. But these four paragraphs are worth spending some time on. Pope Benedict XVI established the “ecclesiological principles” that establish the source and purpose of the church’s unity.
Pope Benedict teaches us that the church is the People of God gathered into the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That the church is designed to bring people into unity with God and each other, and to preach the gospel to every creature.
We are baptized into one church, united by the teaching of the apostles. We profess one faith, and break one Eucharistic bread.
Almost all of his fourth paragraph is a quotation from the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium:
“This single Church of Christ which we profess in the Creed as one, holy, Catholic and apostolic, “subsists in the Catholic Church which is governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and truth are found outside her visible confines. Since these are gifts properly belonging to the church of Christ they are forces impelling toward Catholic Unity.”
It is a remarkable statement by the Council and by the Pope, and it rings true to my experience and faith. It tells us that even while we lived the disunity that contradicts the will of Christ and wounds the Church and scandalizes the world, the Holy Spirit was with us. And the same Holy Spirit was calling us home.
Although he did not quote it explicitly when he wrote Anglicanorum Coetibus, Pope Benedict may very have had in mind another statement from Vatican II, the Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio
“Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place.”
In other words, the most important traditions of our Anglican heritage, our liturgical and sacramental heritage and our historical episcopate were tools of the Holy Spirit.
Our Anglican heritage was more than just a personal and private satisfaction. It played and still plays a role in God’s plan to unite all things in Christ. We should always be grateful. It was there that we came to love the teaching of the apostles, the church fathers and the saints. We were built and nourished with sacraments that were not empty vessels. We were united in a way through the historic episcopate..
But as valuable as it was, it was and is a wounded community, and a wound in the unity of the Body of Christ.
We picked and chose the parts of the Catholic faith that we liked, and we fought with others picked other parts and who rejected the parts we chose. We celebrated some sacraments, and rejected some others as unnecessary, or not even sacraments at all. We experienced the embarrassment and scandal of bishops who rejected the faith they were sworn to uphold and who were unable to live in unity with even their own small portion of the Christian world.
In Anglicanorum Coetibus Pope Benedict heard and responded to the groups of Anglicans who repeatedly and insistently petitioned to be received into the Catholic Church.
But more than that he heard and listened to the Holy Spirit and the Prayer of Christ that all his disciples be one.
And he issued an invitation to receive the church’s healing medicine.
That we join the church in the profession of the faith in its entirety.
That we join the church in the celebration of all the sacraments instituted by Christ.
And that our leaders join the governance of the Church through the College of Bishops united with its head, the Roman Pontiff.
We aren’t here to point the finger at our brothers and sisters who haven’t accepted the invitation and taken the church’s medicine, yet. We don’t have to point the finger because the Lord is reaching out his hand to them. The same God who called us into unity is calling them, too.
And we ARE here to ask God to show us how we can be of help to those who are suffering from the wounds in the Body of Christ, and for whom the church’s medicine seems bitter and for whom it requires sacrifice.
We ARE here to celebrate with joy (Anglican, restrained, and dignified) joy, the unity that Pope Benedict offered and that we received, the great living and very real unity with the Mystical Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit.