Dedication of St. John Lateran

We get a view of Jesus in today’s Gospel that is not very nice. Most of us like the nice Jesus. But when it came to the Holy Temple of Jerusalem which Jesus calls his Father’s House, she shows his wrath in order to cleanse the house of worship,. The Temple was to be holy grounds but the people had turned it into a market place, a place of business and greed. This episode reveals two great mysteries: One about the temple structure as not just a regular building but a sacred place; and the other about the temple of Christ’s Body as something even greater than the temple such that not even death could destroy.

Today our church buildings are our temples and we should guard them with the same zeal of Jesus to keep them from falling into places of greed and corruption. The Temple in the time of Jesus and the church on our time represents the heavenly Jerusalem and so it should be beautiful, sacred, and reserved for prayer and worship. Churches are more than buildings. They are holy grounds and we should sense God’s presence when we enter. That’s why they should be constructed and maintained with great care. Sometimes a cleansing may be necessary to correct errors or abuses so that the church building remains an outward sign of the Heavenly Temple. In the 60’s and 70’s many architects lost this theology of the Church and so the sense of sacred was all but lost for churches built in this time. But our churches should be built in a way that reflects the beautiful theology of our Catholic Faith.

Today marks the anniversary of the dedication of the first Christian church in Rome called St. John Lateran. It was built in the early 300’s after Christianity was legalized for the first time by the Emperor Constantine. It was the church where the pope resided and preached the Gospel and performed baptisms and so eventually was named after St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist. Now the pope lives in Vatican City but St. John Lateran is still his official cathedral and is recognize as the mother church of the World. Throughout the centuries the church was destroyed several times by fire, war, and earthquakes, but each time it was restored and became more beautiful than before. Today it is one the largest and most beautiful basilicas, not just in Rome, but in all the world. As you walk in you notice the huge pillars supporting the church, and built into those pillars are giant statues of the 12 Apostles who Jesus choose to build and support his Church. The history of the pope’s Cathedral is a symbol of the whole Church. Many have tried to destroy the Church but it has always survived. The Church has suffered corruption from her own members who were motivated by greed. But the Church continues to survive and thrive because it is made up of much more than bricks and mortar but of living stones, men and women who filled with the Holy Spirit who God uses to build his Living Temple.

And this is the deeper and more important part of the message today. Jesus refers to his own Body as a Temple when he says “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” And Christ was put to death but rose from the dead in the Resurrection. And now he wants our bodies to be living temples also. Through baptism we have been washed clean of sin and made a part of the Living Body of Christ. And so we must also respect and keep clean the temple of our own bodies from the corruption of sin so that when we face death, our bodies will rise again at the Resurrection of the Dead.

St. Paul said to the Corinthians in the second reading: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” Now we can understand Jesus’ wrath in the Gospel today. Yes Jesus is kind and merciful, gentle and sweet. But when it comes to someone abusing his Father’s House, he goes into attack mode. (Think if someone was making fun of the home of your father or mother and how that would make you react.) How much more zealous is Jesus for those who are tempting Christians into sin. He takes it personally because they are tempting the Body of Christ - they are defiling the temple of God.

So as Christians, our words, actions, behavior, and even our clothing reveal to the world whether we are true temples of God or not. Our world tempts our youth to treat their bodies as temples, but not as temples of the Holy Spirit but temples of pleasure, pride, greed, and lust. The world defines popular clothing that you must wear in order to make the body a temple of sexual attraction. But would we treat our church as place of worship in the day but in the evening dress it up as a night club? How much more important than our temple of worship is the temple of our bodies!

So as Christians we have to see our bodies as sacred. They have a theology just like our church buildings. They represent God. And these aren’t my words. These are the teachings of the Church. These are the words of St. Paul. These are the words of our Lord. And He isn’t trying to take away our fun. We can enjoy dressing well in modest clothing. We can enjoy fun. But we are called to stop living double lives, acting as Christians in one place but not in another. This call to holiness is hard. Indeed, it would be impossible if Jesus did not give us the grace to do it; if he did not wash us clean in the waters of baptism; if he did not make it possible to go to Confession and be washed clean again through his mercy; if he did not build us up each time we fall.

Just like St. John Lateran Basilica that was destroyed many times but stands today as a beautiful monument to God’s glory, so to does God restore us each time we fall. And through this process his grace and mercy makes us more and more beautiful. St. Paul said: “Brothers and sisters you are God’s building, founded on Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God dwells in you.” This is a great consolation as we continue to remember and pray for the souls of the faithful departed in this month of November. Let us keep our own end in mind so that we keep the temple of our bodies holy and become like Christ and share with him the resurrection of the dead. Amen.

Father Timothy Gallagher


St. Bernadette Roman Catholic Church
101 South College Street
Cedartown, GA 30125
(770) 748-1517
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