Friday November 9, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12) Gospel (St. John 2:13-22)
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of Saint John Lateran. Now, there is no saint by the name of Saint John Lateran; but rather, it is a church in Rome that is the Mother Church of all the churches. It is the cathedral church of Rome. Most people tend to think that the cathedral church of Rome is Saint Peter's Basilica - it is not. The cathedral church of Rome is Saint John Lateran. It has that name because the land of the place was donated by the Lateran family. It is really dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist, but then they put the family name on from way back when. Today, then, we celebrate, in essence, the Mother Church for all Catholic people. That is why the Church celebrates it as a feast with the Gloria and special readings and everything else.
In so doing, the Church gives to us these readings regarding the temple and the holiness of the temple. In the first reading we hear about the glory of God. The Spirit brought Ezekiel into the temple and he saw that it was filled with the glory of God. We recall that when Solomon first dedicated the temple the glory of God filled the temple. It was filled with smoke so that they could not even enter because of the glory of God that was there and the dark cloud that had overshadowed the temple as God entered into His holy dwelling place. Obviously, on a day-to-day level, the people would not be able to see the glory of God, but Ezekiel (because he was with the Spirit in that prophetic state) was able to recognize the glory of God, and that this was God's dwelling place among His people.
That is precisely what each and every church is to be: God's dwelling [place] with His people. It is the place where God is with us because Our Lord is present in the Blessed Sacrament. He is in His temple and He fills the temple with His glory. Even if the church looked horrible on the outside (and even on the inside), if the Lord is there the glory of the Lord fills the place. While we want to make a place that is fitting for Our Lord, obviously, even with the greatest of human ingenuity, we would never be able to make a place that is truly perfect and right for the Lord. We can make beautiful places, but the most beautiful thing in the church is the Lord. Nothing can even come close to the glory and the beauty of the Presence of Christ in the church. He is there in the Blessed Sacrament and His glory and beauty are infinite. Everything else that we can see - all the bricks and mortar, all the beautiful pictures and stained glass - is going to be gone one day; but the Lord remains forever.
The Church, then, also gives to us that second reading, not only about the holiness of the temple and the necessity of clearing out everything which is not of God, but also the fact that Jesus says, "Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days." He was talking about the temple of His own body. So when we consider that, then, in just a few moments the Lord will indeed enter His temple; when you receive Him in Holy Communion He will enter the temple of your body. And even though we look at our own bodies and we tend to think rather negatively about them most often, nonetheless, your body has far greater glory than this church. This church was made by human hands. This church is made to try to reflect the glory of God. But your body is made by God, and it is made in the image and likeness of God. It reflects the glory that God wanted your body to reflect and, of course, the soul even more so. That is something we need to keep in mind: the dignity of the human person. All the beauty and all the glory that we can fill a church with pale in comparison to the people that fill the church. And that pales in comparison to the Lord who fills the church.
The glory of the Lord dwells within. If you think about your own person, you can consider the way the Jewish people had their temple set up. In a way, [it is the same] to some degree that we set up the church: We have the main body of the church and then we have the sanctuary area. The Jewish people had the outer courts and the inner courts and the Holy of Holies and so on. Just consider that your heart is the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies. It is the tabernacle where the Lord is going to dwell. Your body is the temple of the Lord; it is that whole church, if you want to think of it that way. Then in the heart - in the soul - is the holy place, the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies where the Lord dwells. How careful we must be to keep that pure and holy, to make sure that we do not allow any kind of impurity into our hearts so that we keep everything pure for the Lord. We are consecrated to the Lord in Baptism and now He fills that temple with His grace, with His Indwelling Presence; and when we receive Him in the Eucharist, with His Sacramental Presence. He is truly within each one of us.
If we can see the glory by looking at the beautiful things in the physical building of the church, just think: that is simply a reflection of the glory that takes place within your heart, within your soul, every single time you receive Our Lord and, in general, when you are in the state of grace. You are the temple of the Lord, and the temple of the Lord is holy. We must be very careful to do nothing that would desecrate the holy temple of God. So, as we celebrate today the feast of the Mother Church of all Christian people, it comes all the way back to the individual who is a living stone within that temple of the Lord. As we consider the Universal Church and all the individual buildings, then we consider Christ, who is the Temple, and each one of us, who are members of Christ. We glorify God and the glory of God fills us, His holy temple.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.