The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome. It was built by Constantine and was for centuries the habitual residence of the Popes. Even today, although he lives in the Vatican, the Pope annually presides on Holy Thursday the Eucharist and the Washing of the Feet in St. John Lateran.
This basilica is a symbol of the unity of all Christian communities with Rome. It is called “mother of all the Churches,” and for this reason, we celebrate this holiday worldwide. It is a reminder that we are all united by the same faith and that the Church of Rome, the Church of the Apostle Peter, is a fundamental reference point of our faith.
Today we may begin the Eucharistic celebration with the sprinkling of water in relation to the theme of water in the First Reading. Then we may sing the creed, the symbol of our faith, which unites us to the Church spread throughout the world, with its center in Rome.
Today’s readings show a mosaic of images of what the Church is: water that flows from the temple, the building, which is built on Christ, the temple of God, and the abode of the Spirit (we are all God’s building). Each of us is the temple, to be defended as a house of prayer (and not changed into a market, as in the scene of the Gospel), the Body of Christ, which will be rebuilt on the third day…
But we could focus on the first image, the water that should flow from the Church, the community of Jesus, to clean and fill the world with life.
Ezekiel sees the water that flows from the temple. Actually, salvation comes from God. But Godsacramentally manifests his presence through the Temple. This water runs down the slopes, which sanitize whatever it encounters along its path. Wherever it passes everything is full of life, fish in abundance, fruit trees with rich crops, and medicinal leaves. It’s like going back to the life that the four rivers of Eden gave to paradise. The Apocalypse, in its final page of the story, also returns to present the same view: “He showed me the river of life, gushing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. On both sides of the river are the trees of life, the leaves of which are for healing the nations” (Rev 22:1-2).
What is this water? The symbolism of this valuable element is very rich. But in the Gospel, the water is especially Christ Jesus, as he tells the Samaritan woman at the well, where both had gone to fetch water. Or it is also his Spirit, as on another occasion the evangelist says, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water. He was referring to the Spirit which those who believe in him were to receive” (Jn 7:38-39).
God gives to the thirsty and parched humankind the “Water of Christ” and “of the Spirit.” Now the visible sign of this grace that comes from God to the world is the Church, the community of Jesus and of the Spirit.
To the Israelites and the strangers that came, the temple of Jerusalem was the required benchmark of the salvation from God and of the worship the believers devoted to him. Now that sign should be the Christian community in the world, in a diocese, in a parish.
Somehow, the meaning of this life-giving water is as sacramentally condensed into their temples and their liturgy: a church in the middle of town or neighborhood, with its bell tower, as their meeting place and prayer for believers and as a reminder of higher values for others. In these buildings—as we equally call the community “Church”—is where the community celebrates the sacrament of Baptism, but also the other sacraments, that the Catechism says that emanates from the living and life-giving Christ (CCC 1116).
But above all, it is the community of persons, which must be a credible sign of God’s life, in and out of the celebration. Jesus, through His Church, continues to give His saving water to all mankind. They are “waters that flow from the sanctuary” and should give that “life wherever the current flows.”
Does the water that quenches the thirst of the world, the light to illumine its darkness, the balm of hope to cure its wounds, really still flow from the sides of each ecclesial community? Does the Church, evangelized and full of the good news, feel and act as evangelizer, communicator of water, of hope, of life? Can she call herself “light of the nations,” salt, ferment, and source of hope for society? Does she display interior unity—around the “cathedral of the world” which is in Rome—and missionary zeal?
First Reading: Ezekiel 47:1-2,8-9,12
The final chapters of the book of Ezekiel (Ezk 40–48) provide a description of a bright future for the people of God, in the form of the prophet’s vision wherein he contemplates in detail the new temple of Jerusalem, the cult celebrated in it and the distribution of land among the tribes of Israel. Like the entire book of Ezekiel, the text responds to the historical situation of the time of the Babylonian exile after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. It wants to reaffirm the hope of the believers in a new future for the people of God.
The temple is the place of God’s presence among his people. So it is central to the vision of Ezekiel. The water flowing from the temple suggests that all the blessings that Israel receives come from God. Water is the source of life and is often associated with the presence of God. Therefore, the water flowing from the temple has the capacity to fertilize the desert land of Judah and is even able to clean the salt waters of the Dead Sea, in which there could be no life.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:9b-11,16-17
Paul’s letters use multiple images to refer to the Christian community. One is that of a building (another well-known is that of the human body). Christians are described as the building of God, a concept that conveys the idea of the strength and unity among all who make up the community.
One of the most important statements linked to the image is that the foundation of the building, the Christian community, can be none other than Jesus Christ. This means, among other things, that Christian missionaries and the leaders of the communities should be very careful to not build anything that deviates from that foundation, that is, to do or teach anything that is outside of Christ.
Actually, speaking of the Christian community with this language, Paul usually thinks of a very specific building, which is none other than the temple of Jerusalem. This is a very suggestive and very rich image, given the centrality of the temple in the life and spirituality of the people of Israel.
The temple was the place of God’s presence. Paul says that God is present now in the believing community. Just as in the temple of the ancient covenant God resided in the temple, now the Spirit of God dwells in believers, the new Temple of God.
This conception has as a corollary the extraordinary dignity of the believer that is, therefore, a holy place par excellence, and the scope of God’s presence in the world. Therefore, everyone should be treated with respect and veneration.
Gospel: John 2:13-22
The temple in Jerusalem was the central place of the religious life of Israel. It was considered the privileged space of God’s presence on earth and, therefore, the proper place for worship and prayer. It is therefore not surprising that several New Testament texts have a certain connection with the building of the temple, with the worship celebrated in it, or with its symbolism.
The famous episode in which Jesus expels the vendors and moneychangers from the precinct of the temple is present in the four Gospels. In one way or another, they interpret the gesture of Jesus in the line of the prophetic call to sincere and authentic worship. The prophets had often strongly denounced the perversion of a formal cult that had no resonance to life. More specifically, the Gospels see in Jesus’ action the fulfillment of Malachi’s announcement (Mal 3:1-4), in which the Lord will enter the temple to purify it.
In John’s Gospel, the story focuses quickly, as usual, in the person of Jesus, and becomes a text of self-revelation. It is the first time that Jesus manifests, yet indirectly, his divine identity when speaking of the Temple as “my Father’s house.” On the other hand, he takes the image of the sanctuary to apply it to his body. It is another way of indicating that he is the real presence of God in the world. Moreover, his words about the destruction and reconstruction of the temple, his body, are an announcement of his future death and resurrection.
We celebrate a very special feast. It is the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. It is natural that in such celebrations our interest goes blurred as we move away from the nearest ambient. We are more accustomed to commemorate the dedication of our own parish, the anniversary of the inauguration of the temple, dates that do not always coincide. It makes us miss the feast of the dedication of the cathedral itself, which every diocese commemorates. Going beyond, with a feast that refers not to a saint of the universal church, but to a more or less distant building, it can seem to us like a rather strange call.
What then is the importance of the church of St. John Lateran? Why do we remember its dedication, its inauguration? Well mainly because it was the first public building, the first temple where Christians find themselves free, in the capital of the empire, after the persecution. At the site’s entrance, there is an inscription that reads: “Holy Church of Lateran, mother and head of all churches of the city and of the world,” meaning that all temples, where Christians gather throughout the land, had its beginning there.
We know that the feast of a Christian building reminds us not of the stone but of the people, the living stones of the Temple of God. Today’s celebration leads us to think of our own communities because each of our Churches has a link to that. With the image of this temple “head and mother” we can see our local Churches because in them and for them the Catholic Church exists, the one and only, forming a communion.
Today we especially pray for all those who form the living building of our dioceses: from the most humble and hidden members to our bishops that from the symbolic place of the cathedrals are the visible foundation of unity. We pray also for those who have the mission of research and teaching, theologians, those responsible for preaching, catechesis, teachers, and counselors; for all who have a pastoral mission; for the communities and movements that strive to convey the Gospel: that all may live under the impulse of the Spirit who leads into all truth. That our local Church, with the testimony and actions of all its members, fulfills its mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of men and women of our time and place.
Today’s readings present to us two situations and different reactions in relation to the temple as a place of prayer and community setting. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of a stream that comes from the sanctuary and makes fruitful and heals wherever it passes; there is a beneficial influence that comes from the temple. Instead, the evangelist John shows us the action of Jesus driving the merchants from the temple and wanting to purify his space as a place of true encounter with God. Both situations are possible and are given in our own churches, which, as the ancient Fathers said, are holy and sinful at the same time, carriers of the treasure of the Gospel and always in need of conversion and reform.
The stream, the river of Church history, has been spreading throughout the centuries. It brings us the living water of the Gospel and the grace that comes from the side of Christ, who through his body offered on the cross is the true Temple. At the same time, the river of history, this day in our communities, often goes dim and always has to confront the living voice of the Gospel to return again and again to the first loyalty.
The action of Jesus shows us what that loyalty has to be. If the temple is a place of encounter with God, God Himself shows us the great place to find him: in the concrete person, the poor, and the needy. This is the temple to be respected; no one can defile with contempt and exploitation. Practicing good and justice is the true worship that certifies sincere prayer. So the face of Christ, in image presides our temples, will show itself to our world as living water, with an influence of liberation and salvation. The glory of God is man’s life and the life of man is the ability to see God.