Friday, November 7, 2014

Zeal for Your House Consumes Me: A Homily for the Dedication of St. John Lateran in Rome

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou                                  Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome


November 9, 2014

 I will never forget the first time I stepped foot into the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Lewiston. As a small child I was mesmerized by it…anytime we would drive by it I’d press my face up against the car window and just gaze up at its magnificence. If you’ve ever been to it or even just seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I remember being absolutely convinced that it was a medieval castle, filled with kings and knights and treasures. And even though we lived only a few miles away from it, it wasn’t until I was 9 years old that I finally went inside. 
The Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine
We were parishioners at Holy Family across town and there was just never an opportunity to go inside. But when my grandfather died in 1996, it was finally time to breach those grand doors. Clasping my grandmother’s hand, I entered into what would be a life-changing experience for me. The smell of incense and candles…the massive gothic arches…dozens of statues easily twice my size…beams of colored light flowing in through the intricate stained glass windows. I was stunned and completely awe-struck. This wasn’t a castle…it was heaven. It was that same day, completely overcome by the overwhelming sense of God’s abiding presence in that church and in my life, that I felt the call to the priesthood. And 18 years later I would lay on the floor of that very church, surrounded by the same arches, and windows, and statues, by the same brick and mortar, only to have the very same feeling of being overcome and awe-struck as God made me His priest. As I lay there, my face literally pressed into the floor of this beautiful church, the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, which are actually a quote from Psalm 69, flooded into my mind and heart: zeal for your house consumes me.
Whether it’s a grand church like Sts. Peter and Paul, or a simple country church like the one we’re in now, we love our churches. These houses of God become homes for us…places where we encounter the beauty, and the truth, and the goodness of our God in ways almost inexpressible. The brick and the mortar, the stone and the wood, these things formed and fashioned by human hands become the locus for the great and daily encounter between God and man. Our ancestors in the faith poured their blood, sweat, and tears into these places in the hope that, for generations to come, God and His children would have a home to call their own…a refuge from the wiles of the world, a hospital for sinners to be made well again, a banquet hall for the hungry to feast. A place for the lonely to be welcomed, for the fearful to be given hope, for the poor to be made rich. It is here, within these walls and the walls of all the world’s churches, that God lifts us out of our everyday experiences and reminds us that He is with us…it is here that He gives us a foretaste of heaven and reminds us to live, not for this life in this world, but for the life in the world to come.
Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. At first glance it seems odd…why do we, in northern Maine, celebrate with such great festivity a church almost 4,000 miles away? My bet is that many of us here have never ever heard of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which can make this feast day all the more puzzling. So what exactly is going on today? Why are we here celebrating the dedication of a church we’ve probably never even been to or heard of?
Most people, when they think of churches in Rome, will automatically think of St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s arguably one of the most, if not the most, famous churches in all Christendom.
The Archbasilica of St. John Lateran
But interestingly enough, St. Peter’s, while certainly being the biggest and the most recognizable church in the world, is actually not the most significant. That honor falls to the Papal Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, which we call St. John Lateran. It’s the most significant because it is this church that serves as the Cathedral for the Diocese of Rome, where the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, has his cathedra (his throne), from which he presides over all of Christendom as the Chief Shepherd of the Lord’s flock, as the Vicar of Christ on earth. This church is important, then, to all Christians because it is the great symbol of the Church’s unity as preserved and safeguarded by the Successor of St. Peter. On the 9th of November in the year 324, exactly 1,690 years ago today, this church was consecrated and has ever since served as the Mother and Head of all the Churches in the City of Rome and the World. 
His Holiness Pope Francis,
Bishop of Rome and Successor of St. Peter,
at his cathedra in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.
e turn our attention to and celebrate today that physical building…a conglomeration of wood and stone that has stood for centuries and centuries…of brick and mortar that has walled and covered the heads of 233 popes. We do this because this building means and signifies so much. It reminds us that, in Christ, we are all one…and this unity has enfleshed and evidenced itself in brick and stone just as the Son of God Himself took on flesh.
Here too, within these walls, we become a living instantiation and a visible sign of the unity of Christ’s Church. Joined as one with every Catholic Church in our diocese, in our country, in our world, and in a special way with St. John Lateran, our church here is a true Domus Dei, a house of God, where Christ Himself becomes present in our midst. We celebrate and acclaim that Christ, the Divine Son of God, is alive and present in His Church on earth. He works in and through the Pope, the Successor of Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the Apostles. He works in and through the priests joined to them. He works in and through all of His holy people incorporated into His Body through Baptism and sustained by the Sacraments. And it is in this way that He continues His saving mission in the world.
Each time you come into this holy place, remember the mysteries contained herein. Remember what Christ has done, is doing, and will do for you and all His holy people in all of the churches throughout the world until the end of time. Remember that this is your home, not because of anything you have added or done for it, but because it is first God’s house…the place where He reveals to you His love and asks for your love in return. And remember that this piece of holy ground invites and calls you to live out the mysteries you encounter here wherever you go, so that with all your heart and soul you can cry out with the Psalmist, “Zeal for your house consumes me.

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