Wednesday November 9, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12)
Reading II (1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17)
Gospel (St. John 2:13-22)
The feast that we celebrate today, the Dedication of the Church of Saint John Lateran, is an important feast for the entire Church, as is quite clear from what we have just done–we had the Gloria, two readings, and the Gospel. The reason for this is that this is the mother church of the Roman Catholic
Church. The Church of Saint John Lateran is the cathedral church of the Archdiocese of Rome–Saint Peter’s Basilica is not the cathedral church of Rome–so this is the Pope’s cathedral. It is an ancient building. Now there is not a saint by the name of Saint John Lateran, but rather it is a church named after Saint John the Evangelist and the land that it is on was donated by the Lateran family. That is how it has its name.
But it is also important for us because, as the Church points out, this understanding of God’s temple, of this church, is in several different ways. We have the physical church building, we have the new and eternal Jerusalem (in other words, the eternal temple of God in heaven), and then we have the temple which is our own body. In order to be able to truly understand what the dignity of this feast is, we have to be able to understand each of these elements. I think all of us would understand reasonably well the dignity of the eternal temple in heaven, but also I think we all see the importance and the dignity of the church building. But the problem is that we are the living members, the living stones, that make up that eternal Jerusalem and it is the dignity of our own self that most of us tend to miss.
In this society, where we have all kinds of young people putting tattoos all over their bodies, putting pins in their faces and all over the various parts of their bodies, they have no recognition of the dignity of their bodies. With the drugs and the sexual immorality and all of the other things they are getting themselves into, once again, it is a complete violation of the temple of the Lord. They have completely missed the dignity of this temple. This is of critical importance because if we do not recognize the dignity of our own temple, which is a microcosm of the new and eternal Jerusalem, and which in fact is a living member of that new and eternal Jerusalem, then we will have no part of it.
If we listen again to what Saint Paul said in the second reading today, he said, The temple of God, which you are, is holy; and if anyone destroys this temple, God will destroy that person. That is your body that he is talking about. So we need to recognize the dignity we have as human persons, and we need to live according to that dignity. The body, as Saint Paul says, is not made for immorality. It is made for holiness, so we are to use our bodies to express in the physical world what it means to be an image of God, to show in a physical way what it means to live as members of Jesus Christ and as children of God.
As I mentioned many times before, every single thing that happens in the world flows from the altar of God, but, as we heard in the first reading today, there is this water flowing out from beneath the temple and beneath the altar. Well, if we recall in Saint John’s Gospel, he tells us that those who believe will have this well, this living water, flowing from within them and it will well up to eternal life. Each one of us has this abundance of grace that is to flow out from within us, and it is to bring water into this desert of a world that we live in, it is to make the salt waters fresh. This is what takes place from heaven, this is what takes place from every single altar around the world, but it is also to take place within each one of us who receive Jesus Christ into ourselves. In that way, one could say that our heart becomes the altar where Our Lord is received. All of that grace is to flow out from within us, that love of Christ which is to go out and change the world. But, once again, unless we can recognize our own dignity and the dignity of our call, we will never be able to do what the Lord is asking.
So this is the challenge for each and every one of us. We are told of Our Lord in the Gospel reading today: Zeal for your house consumes me. Can we say that? Do we have such zeal that we want to go to heaven? Do we have such zeal that we want to be with the Lord, to make sure that His church building is beautiful? Do we have such zeal that we will recognize that this temple of our own bodies is holy, and to live lives of true holiness and to glorify God in that way? That is what the Lord is looking for from each one of us, to see the dignity that He has given to us and live according to that dignity so that the grace and the love of God will flow out from beneath our temple, from within our own hearts, and bring that life-giving water to this world which has chosen death instead, to bring the love of God into the world through the temple of God–which is our own self.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.