Commentary on the Gospel of

Jay Carney - Creighton University's Theology Departmen



Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome


Today Catholics celebrate the feast of the oldest church in Western Christendom. Commissioned by the Emperor Constantine and dedicated by Pope St. Sylvester in 324 AD, the St. John Lateran Basilica is the home church of the Bishop of Rome. I remember visiting the Lateran in younger days and taking an extra look at the celebrant’s chair. “When the Pope speaks ex cathedra, that is where he sits!” I murmured to myself. For all of its symbolic importance, what struck me about the Lateran was its relative obscurity next to the opulence of St. Peter’s Basilica. The Lateran is a grand and beautiful church, but it is not crawling with tourists and pilgrims. It feels like the local church of the Bishop of Rome, which is in keeping with history of today’s feast: it began as a city-wide celebration in Rome, before its expansion to the universal Church in the early 18th century.

Today’s readings remind us that the Church’s ultimate mission is to give life. In the desert climate of ancient Judea, Ezekiel’s vision of fresh water flowing out of the temple offers striking images of hope and life: abundant fish, fruit trees, food, medicine, and the multiplication of “every sort of living creature.” The Temple’s life-giving mission is not inevitable, however. When it becomes a profit-driven vehicle of burdensome taxation and corruption, Jesus makes his feelings abundantly clear in perhaps the most violent scene of his ministry. In his letter to Corinth, St. Paul reminds us that the Church’s life-giving mission belongs to each of us as baptized believers who possess the Spirit of Christ within the unified Body of Christ. Ultimately, the Church’s mission is not to be a corporation, but rather the corporate Body, exemplifying God’s life, love, and unity in the world.

In 1726 Pope Benedict XIII instituted the Feast of the Lateran Basilica to undergird the worldwide unity of the Catholic Church. The Church’s unity is always being tested, as we see so evidently in today’s violent, hyper-polarized, social media age. In response, may we share Jesus’ zeal for his Father’s house, and for every “temple of God” therein.


write comment
Please enter the letters as they are shown in the image above.