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Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, Rome

  • International
  • November 9, 2012
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The basilica of St John Lateran is commonly considered “the mother of all churches”. It was a palace belonging to the Emperor Constantine, who gifted it to Pope St Miltiades in 313. Part of the palace became a church, and it was dedicated to our Most Holy Saviour. The other part became the papal residence and continued as such for the next thousand years. Today it is a museum. Subsequently, SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist became patrons of the church, whence the present name.

St John Lateran has played an important part in church history. It was the venue of five ecumenical councils and of 20 synods of bishops, and until the 16th century when the basilica of St Peter was built, it was the administrative centre of the Church.

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel tells us of an incident towards the end of his public life, when Jesus cleansed the outer Temple courts in Jerusalem.

The Temple in Jerusalem had been built with great extravagance by Herod the Great, and was considered one of the world’s wonders It took about forty years to complete, and was still under construction when Jesus was alive. Sadly though, the Jewish priestly class, which controlled the Temple, had become worldly and corrupt. There was no concern at all for genuine worship and prayer. Instead its only obsession was on how to loot the devotees through the money-changing activities and the sale of sacrificial animals. It is this which incensed Jesus when he threw the shopkeepers and money-changers out of the temple courts.

As we reflect on the great Christian churches of West Asia and Europe – one of which is St John Lateran -- let’s never forget that a church is first of all a living, worshipping community of believers, dedicated to the Lord in service of his people, and only then an edifice of stone and plaster. No matter how beautiful and historic, no matter how impressive, if it isn’t a compassionate and dedicated community, the Church – like Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem – has lost its soul, and stands in need of reform, of ‘cleansing’.
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